The indifferent attitude has taken a heavy toll on all attempts towards modernising of induction of modern dates processing techniques

By Syed M. Aslam
Mar 17 - 23, 2003

Pakistan is grower of quality dates and 4th top producer in the world. It is also the 3rd top global exporter after the United Arab Emirates and Iran. The area under dates cultivation, dates production and volume of exports have registered a substantial increase during the 1990s. In 1999-2000, the total area under dates cultivation in Pakistan was over 76,000 hectares which depicted a sharp increase of over 81 per cent in 1990-91. Dates production during the same period, however, almost doubled during the same period- from 579,880 tons dates in 1999-00 to 287,256 tons as per the statistics compiled by the Export Promotion Bureau (EPB), Government of Pakistan. It exported over 77,000 tons of dates worth over $ 27.5 million in 2001-2002.

Pakistan exports dates in both the fresh and dried form. Dried dates, however, make-up almost 90 per cent of the total dates exports both in terms of quantity and value. India is the main market of Pakistani dates, both fresh and dried. In fact, over 93 per cent of dates exported from Pakistan during 2000-01 went to India. India, thus is the single biggest market of Pakistani dates.

The failure of Pakistani dates to wrestle a better share of the markets in the developed countries can be alternative to the absence of modern processing machinery and the traditional method of processing to save the labour. The tradition of leaving dates open under the sun is not only time consuming but also results in erratic quality unacceptable in the pricey but quality conscious markets in the developed world.

This also explains the reason for the dried dates making up the overwhelming portion of the exports which has its main market in India and pockets in a number of countries in the region. The demand of dried dates in Pakistan, India and a number of other countries in the region as way those having a sizable population of people from the Indo-Pak sub continent, including Canada, is driven by marriages and religious ceremonies. Dried dates are a part of all such ceremonies just like small presents given to children at a birthday party.

As mentioned earlier, dried dates make upto 90 per cent of the total dates exports from the country and 90 per cent of all dates exports from Pakistan end up in India. One of the main reasons for India being the top market of Pakistani dates is Sindh, the top dates producing province of Pakistan and shares a long border with India. The proximity and the great demand of the dates, particularly the dried variety in India has helped the exporters find a big market right across the border. The fact that many of the Hindus, who make up a large portion of population in and around the dates producing areas of the province and have dependable contacts in India, has also made the dates exporters indifferent to find high priced markets in the developed world.

The indifferent attitude has taken a heavy toll on all attempts towards modernising of induction of modern dates processing techniques. That also explains why Pakistan has failed to process dates into a table item to capture the markets in the industrialised world, including Canada. However, Pakistani dates growers and exporters have received the shock of their lives recently which may help change their attitude in the years to come.

So what has happened? India severed communication with Pakistan on January 1, 2002 using a terrorist attack on the Parliament building in New Delhi on December 13, 2001 as a pretext. It banned the use of its air space by commercial flights by Pakistan International Airline which also resulted in closure of PIA's offices in New Delhi and Mumbay and weekly services to these two Indian cities. It also severed rail and bus links between the two countries through Wagah border, Lahore. In addition, India amassed troops on the Pakistani border for over 11 months.

The sealed borders deprived the Pakistani dates exporters a substantial volume of business the gravity of which was dawned to them in the last quarter of 2002. October is traditionally the peak period of demand of dried Pakistani dates in India due to a number of religious festivities of which the dates is a necessary ingredient. In 2002, the tension between the two countries and the sealed border deprived the Pakistani exporters the major portion of their export earnings. For the first time they realised the consequences of depending on a big captive market irrespective of the proximity. The loss to growers and the exporters runs in millions of dollars and they are looking at hard times due to loss of a captive market they have accustomed to depend so heavily over the years.

Observers feel that the crisis would encourage the induction of modern processing technology and to also explore new markets for the Pakistani dates. The crisis is seen by many others as a blessing in disguise to process the quality Pakistani dates into value-added table item in the developed world.