Feb 23 - Mar 01, 2009

Balochistan has tremendous potential for development of horticulture, particularly the fruit farms. Serious efforts need to be directed towards a shift from traditional to a technology based farming system using appropriate agricultural inputs in technologically feasible and economically profitable manner. A strong agriculture research system is needed to efficiently and fully tap fruit export potential of Balochistan- the country's fruit basket.

As Balochistan enjoys diversity of climates, it produces various fruit crops ranging from temperate to sub-tropical and tropical. While apple, apricot, cherry, and peach are high delta fruits, grape, olive, pistachio and pomegranate are low delta fruits grown in the province. While Mango is a tropical fruit, the date palm is sub-tropical fruit plant.

The province produces dates of 130 varieties. According to one estimate, Mekran provides about 0.5 million tones of dates annually. Some of the famous varieties of date grown in Turbat and Panjgur districts include Begum Jangi, Kaharaba, Mozawati, Berni, Helini and Sabzo. The province produced 6,625 tons of mangoes during fiscal year 2003-04 contributing 0.6 percent to the total national production.

Fruit crops are grown over an area of 149726 hectares in the province and approximately 889490 tons of production is achieved annually. Apples, almonds, grapes, apricots, peaches, plums and dates are grown over an area of 48329 hectares, 10621 hectares, 12240 hectares, 10999 hectares, 3945 hectares, 3872 hectares and 43099 hectares, respectively. Fruit production in highland Balochistan, which contains south-western region, depends on the availability of groundwater. The region is famous for grape production of commercial varieties such as Kishmishi and Shundokhani.

The research studies have also been conducted on tropical fruit production in the province. New techniques for production of tropical fruits, and cost-effective practices and packages for the production improvement, and new high-yielding and pest-resistant varieties of tropical fruits have also been introduced. In Lasbella district, a project for improving production of tropical fruits is underway under PSDP schemes.

Apples grown in Balochistan orchards have a major share in national exports. Apples have great market in Middle East and other foreign countries for their delicious taste and peculiar varieties. Gulf States in particular provide good market to Balochistan apples. With little but serious efforts, the government can enhance export of apples creating new markets for this delicious fruit of Pakistan. The major importing countries of Pakistani Apples include Dubai, Hong Kong, India, Brunei, Bahrain, Netherlands, Sri Lanka, Kenya, Malaysia, Saudi Arabia, Bangladesh, Burma and Japan. Apple Treatment plants are essential to efficiently tap the apple export potential of Pakistan and reach the world apple markets round the year.

The government should make arrangements to organize apple exhibitions in foreign countries for marketing of apples. Exporters, importers and support service agencies of the foreign countries may be invited in the shows. The apple shows may be organized in the countries of Far East, Gulf and Europe. The sale-centers should be established in foreign countries. These units would have latest data on apple production and its varieties in Pakistan and would be linked to their head office in Islamabad through a computerized system for earlier demand and supply services round the year. Such centers may be established in Riyadh, Dubai, Abu Dubai, Qatar, Bahrain, Jakarta, Istanbul and Kuala Lumpur.

Mekran provides about 4,25,000 tones of dates annually, but the province has no share in national export of dates. A large foreign exchange may be earned for the country by exporting it to USA, Canada, Far East and other countries. There is a need to tap date export potential of the province. India is thought to be the biggest market for dry dates. Pakistan can easily capture the Indian market by exploiting fully the date potential of Balochistan.

Local farmers face a plethora of problems from planting, harvesting to marketing of their fruit crops. Shortage of irrigation water, non-availability of groundwater in highland, lack of marketing infrastructure and facilities like farm to market roads and sale centers, dearth of skilled labor and lack of technical knowledge and expertise are the key problems baring long-term investment in fruit production. Moreover, the absence of cold storage houses and air-conditioned transportation facilities for the fruits like grapes also increase the risks of fruits spoilage.

The small farmers have also no access to bank loans to meet their working capital requirements. For local farmers, obtaining loans is also a complicated process. They direly need finance at all stages of crop activity from sowing to spraying and harvesting and for making different types of improvements in the land, farm implements, machinery, tube wells and so on.

Fertilizers are essentially used by the growers of fruit crops, but the price of fertilizers has presently soared to 30 to 35 percent. The fruit crops are adversely affected by scarcity of water, as tube wells do not operate for the required period due to the power shortage.

Pre-harvest contractors and commission agents largely benefit from the fruit production and the poor farmers continue to reel under the miserable socio-economic conditions.

The small farmers have no option but the pre-harvest sale of their orchards to contractors, as they have no cold-storage facilities to save their produce. Moreover, they are unable to bear the high costs of entire marketing operation for their fruit crops. Only a few farmers with sound financial position have direct contacts with the commission agents to market their produce.

Government should provide relief to the local growers of fruit crops by providing them essential infrastructure facilities like farm to market road, cold-storage houses, and regular and sustainable supply of electricity in order to enhance production and export of quality fruits. Like wheat crop the government should fix a support price for the fruit crops setting a procurement target for the ex-harvest year and the government agencies should directly purchase the produce from the farmers at the fixed price.

The government should extend rural credits to small farmers for horticulture development in the province The lack of finance does not enable the cash-starved small farmers to harvest and market their fruit crop and they have to sell their orchards to pre-harvest contractors, who exploit them taking advantage of their weak financial position. The small farmers' access to loan facility should be ensured.