TARIQ AHMED SAEEDI (tariqsaeedi@hotmail.com)
June 30 - July 06, 2008

While industries of processing and canning of vegetables, meats, and poultry products in Pakistan are presently not standing alongside the major exporters of regional and international markets, its competitive position in terms of surrounded by genres of vegetables producing farmlands, naturally growing poultry and livestock sectors if blended with government special support and focus can make the country a main exporter of canned and processed foods in the world.

Over $4.5 billion processed foods trade takes place around the globe presently. The share of Pakistan in total global trade can only be inferred upon the total exports of food groups as no exclusive development category is assigned for processed products in the group export figure, which reveals exports worth $2.4 billion of rice, fish and fish preparations, fruits, vegetables, pulses, tobacco, wheat, spices, oil seeds, sugar, meat and meat preparations, and all other food items during July-May 2007-08. Of that food group, top export of $1.5 billion was made solely by rice. Officially fish, meat and preparations are considered as separate development categories yet their inclusion in chequered-like reviewable makes it difficult to identify exactly value of processed foods exports.

China, Brazil, Thailand, Germany, France, USA, Ireland, India, Belgium, Argentina are few of the top exporting countries of preserved foods. They apply modern preservation techniques: dehydration, freeze drying, fermentation, irradiation on raw materials of fruits, meat and white meat, and poultry to increase in imperishability of perishables.

Japan is the world largest importer of processed vegetables while UK, Germany, USA, France, Belgium, Ireland, Netherlands, and Australia have relatively high demand for preserved foods produced worldwide. However, Pakistan's processed foods have relatively attractive consumer markets in Central Asian and Mid East countries because of the geographical proximity.

At present processed food industry of Pakistan is not availing the advantages of export owing to the government antipathy towards the potentials-laden agriculture sector that, in terms of value addition, has very meagre contribution in gross national products.

The growth of processed food industry is directly dependent on the progressive agriculture and livestock sector. Since Pakistan is agriculture based society and accounts for major contribution in GDP by the raw agrarian activities, introduction of sustainable and consistent industrial processes transforming raw into fined consumable would not take too much efforts and money. This would also increase employability in the sector and too amplify in incomes of peasants.

With government support entrepreneurship can be promoted in the processed food industry, which is labour intensive and requires also adequately trained staff whose well know-how about canned foods production process is necessary to standardize it at par with the international standards.

Muhammad Uzair, management consultant in Smeda told this scribe, "There are disappointing numbers of businesses in canned food industry of Pakistan." It is difficult to relate revenue generated by this industry from foreign trade, he said. Smeda has been guiding and advising new investors and entrepreneurs about financial matters, local market peculiarities favourable and challenging for venturing in processed food industry.

Local market can become a springboard of lucrative exporting processed food industry because of underlying various favourable factors. First and foremost is that greater numbers of total workforce in Pakistan engage in farming that implies abundance of farm produce available for domestic consumption and for export mainly in raw forms. By giving them vocational training of comprehensible food processing methods and specialized financial assistance, they can build up a more sound integrated vertical chain of canned foods production at their places. Short distance between cannery and point of production can cut short cost of production. So far, neither farmers are capacitated of processing raw nor as yet has any successful attempt been surfaced of distributing farm produce right from the fields in processed form in the market. Closely linked advantage is of cheap availability of farm products in the vicinity of farmlands. The minus cost of logistics and absence of middlemen in distribution channel causes reduction in end price.

Secondly, occupying an emblem of world's largest agri-output giver, Pakistan has livestock sector bread earners for a major population of the country. Meat production and consumption are significantly high across the country. Even though lack of standardized slaughterhouses and underdeveloped processed industry has distanced, among others, export benefits, proliferation rate of bovine animals is remarkable. This divine legacy can still flourish meat processing industry of Pakistan.

The rural population having personalized knowledge of raw materials and prices can play wonders in bringing forth galvanized processed food industry at the international trade front. Shortage of infrastructural facilities may be an obstacle in establishing preserved food industry in villages. Suburban areas with pertinent industrial prerequisites can initially be considered.

Foods preservation endures sensitive process so that perishable items could remain healthfully eatable for a longer period of time. In European and other developed countries unhygienic food items can invite an embargo. The technological and time taking production processes including blanching, sterilizing, and brining augment shelf life of canned foods. Among them, brining calls serious cautiousness and if not overdone is good. The ban over some of Pakistani canned foods in few countries months ago was basically due to over mixing of colours. Despite that, world market is fairly promising for Pakistan's canned foods.

At present, only few large scale companies are carrying processed foods operations and they are also the major exporters. Most of these companies are based in Karachi, Lahore, and Peshawar. Among them, Shezan, Ahmed Foods, Mitchell's Fruits, Dittu's & Sons, Tasty Food Products, KK and Limited, Frontier canning company, Iqbal Business centre, Hunza valley, and Hattar industry are preparing processed foods.

The arrival of fast food or ready to cook food in local market has changed the culinary list in some kitchens. Especially such poultry items, to some extent, have scaled down the sale graph of poultry products. But still people give preference to fetch fresh vegetables over any canned ones. However, processed vegetables having mixture of another flavour, texture, or syrup are used to preferably make foreign cuisines. Probably, canned vegetables have yet to position itself in the local market. Internationally the demand of canned foods is on rise and Pakistan's processed food industry should vie for its part in the supply.