Aug 23 - 29, 2010

Agribusiness Support Fund (ASF) is a "Not for Profit Company" registered under Section 42 of the Companies Ordinance. ASF was established by the federal ministry of food, agriculture & livestock (Minfal) with the support of the Asian Development Bank (ADB) in the context of the agribusiness development and diversification project. The ASF is governed by independent board of directors and is based in Lahore.

Agribusiness Support Fund provides farmers, farmer groups, and entrepreneurs with demand-driven technical and managerial services on a matching grant basis to improve their productivity, competitiveness and creditworthiness to access financing for their enterprises.

ASF has extended its financial support for the establishment of a solar dryer for date palm in district Khairpur-Sindh. The dryer was designed by ASF team member, which comprises of qualified engineers on experimental basis for the first time in Pakistan for drying of date palm.

ASF extended a matching grant funding of Rs0.3 million to Maulana Sadaruddin Palphoto President of Sindh Dates Growers Association for construction of solar dryer on his farm in Khairpur. The experiment remained successful as in the first phase 1.5 tons of date palm was dried within a record time period of 3-day, which produced high quality dates. The dryer has a capacity to process 15 tons of date palm in a month, which can further be enhanced.

A spokesperson of ASF told Page that the uniqueness of this solar dryer is that it is based on very simple technology, which has zero operational cost since it totally works on natural sunlight, and neither requires expensive solar panels nor electricity. It only requires one-time infrastructure investment, which may last up to 20 years. The same dryer technology can be used for drying of other agricultural produce as well.

According to him, the use of ASF designed & sponsored solar dryer showed impressive results as the produce not only remains protected from rain, dust and insects but the drying period was also reduced by half compared to 5-6 days process using traditional methods. All these factors also improved the quality of produce, which fetched a premium price of Rs15-20 per kg to the grower.

On a macro level, this simple technology has the potential to have a significant positive impact on poverty alleviation in the region. Improved quality would further pave way for increased export of date-palm thereby increasing revenues in foreign exchange for the country.

It may be noted that Pakistan produces 0.5-0.6 million tones of date palm each year and is rated as the fifth largest producer in the world. Unfortunately nearly, 70 per cent of the produce is traditionally processed into low priced 'chuharas' for avoiding expected losses due to rain. Traditional methods are used to dry date palm on jute mats in open air under un-hygienic conditions, which hampers produce quality, and fetches low price to growers. Due to collision of monsoon with date-palm harvesting season each year, the grower faces risk of losing up to 70-80 per cent of the crop. Hesitation in using modern techniques & practices further results into 25-30 per cent post-harvest losses each year.

Seeing the success of ASF experimental project, a number of progressive growers in Khairpur/Sukkar districts have vowed to construct similar solar dryers on their respective farms and have approached ASF for financial assistance, the spokesperson said.

He further said the ASF has pledged further considerable financial support for the benefit of growers of Khairpur and intends to take the technology to other date-palm producing regions of Pakistan. Besides, similar ASF's sponsored solar dryers are already under construction in Peshawar, Swat, Gilgit, Skardu, etc. where these will be used for drying apricots, grapes, persimmons, bitter gourd, onions and other fruits and vegetables.

ASF extends its support in the shape of matching grants to agribusiness concerns in the horticulture and livestock sectors. ASF is also represented by the offices of ADDP located in the four provinces as well as Fata, Fana and the AJK.