Nov 30 - Dec 06, 2009

Balochistan has tremendous potential for development of fruit farms. Serious efforts need to be directed for bringing about 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.

Export of fruits is considered a big source of foreign exchange. Pakistan enjoys robust position in world apple market. It is worth mentioning that very good quality of apples are available in Pakistan, 80% of which are produced in Balochistan, but unfortunately no treatment plant for their preservation was established by the successive governments in the past.

Fruit crops are grown over an area of 149726 hectares in Balochistan 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.

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. Apples grown in Balochistan orchards have a major share in 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.

Fruit production in highland Balochistan, which contains southwestern region, depends on the availability of groundwater. The region is famous for grape production of commercial varieties such as Kishmishi and Shundokhani.

Efficient crop management can increase the profits of local farmers and decrease their costs involved in fruit production.

The experts believe that Balochistan's tremendous yield potential of high quality delicious fruits can efficiently be tapped by establishing 'crop specific zone' and "fruit processing units" in the province. Each agro-ecological zone in the province presents specific agro-climatic conditions for production of different kinds of fruits.

Grape, the low delta crop is grown in bulk in Quetta, Pishin, Kalat, Zhob, Loralai and Mastung districts. Zoning is essential for growing different fruit crops. The experts suggest that province should be divided into zones for quality fruit production. Generally, the local growers of fruit crops do not pay heed toward zoning for growth of different fruit crops.

Treatment plants are essential for preservation of fruits in Balochistan, mainly the apples and dates. Pakistan Industrial Development Corporation (PIDC) should take steps for setting up separate dates processing and apple storage projects in Balochistan. The experts should also introduce high yielding, and drought and disease resistance varieties of fruits. The positive steps to increase fruit production and export from the province will increase the country's foreign exchange reserves.

The treatment plants serve the purpose of fruit preservation during off-season. The country will earn huge foreign exchange if these plants are established at different districts in coastal Balochistan.

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.

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. What is direly needed is to enable the farmers to sell their produce directly eliminating the role of middlemen in the marketing channel. Like wheat crop, the government may 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. The government should also provide cold-storage facilities at district/tehsil level.

Presently, these facilities are only available in Lahore, Karachi, Multan and other big cities of Pakistan and the small farmers are unable to bear the transportation charges. The government should also provide essential infrastructure facilities like farm to market road, regular and sustainable supply of electricity in order to enhance production and export of quality fruits.

There is a dire need to overcome the scarcity of water through construction of check/delay action dams in suitable areas of the province. The micro-irrigation systems need to be introduced widely to cope with problem of water shortage in fruit growing areas of the province. Steps should be taken to check adulteration of pesticides, as the adulterated pesticides adversely affect the quality of fruits. Local farmers particularly the growers of apple feel extremely worried about attack of mites on the crop. The mites attack the leaves of the fruit plant damaging the chlorophyll and within a short period, the entire crop is affected. The local farmers spray pesticides on the crop 4 to 8 times in a month. The affected plants do not bear quality fruits, and hence the fruits are sold at lower prices.

The local farmers also complain that adulterated pesticides are available in bulk in the local market. Steps should be taken to control the prices of fertilizers and pesticides in the market.