Feb 14 - 20, 20

Fruit exports from Balochistan, the country's fruit basket, should be the part and parcel of any strategy prepared for exports enhancement in Islamabad. Export of fruits is considered a big source of foreign exchange.

Pakistan enjoys robust position in world apple market. It is worth mentioning that good quality apples are available in Pakistan, 80 per cent of which are produced in Balochistan, but unfortunately no treatment plant for their preservation was established by the successive governments in the past. Treatment plants are essential for preservation of fruits in Balochistan, mainly the apples and dates.

The province contributes 90 per cent national production of grapes, cherry and almonds, 60 per cent of peach, pomegranate, apricot and 34 per cent of apple and 70 per cent of dates. Thousands tons of apples are exported each year from Balochistan. Over 80 per cent of the quality apples are produced in the province.

Pakistan Industrial Development Corporation (PIDC) should take steps for setting up separate dates processing and apple storage projects in Balochistan. The experts should 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 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. 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. 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.

The key problems baring long-term investment in fruit production include 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. Investments can be made in building cold storage houses and air-conditioned transportation facilities to minimize the risks to spoilage of fruits.

Balochistan's tremendous yield potential of high quality deciduous 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. 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.

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. Apricot and plum are high delta fruits, which are grown in upland Balochistan. Grape is a low delta crop and may be grown in all types of climates and soils. The province is famous for its grape production of commercial varieties. The grapes are grown in bulk in Quetta, Pishin, Kalat, Zhob, Loralai and Mastung districts, which are currently facing the problem of power shortage. The acute shortage of water due to frequent power breakdown has been playing havoc with these fruit crops.

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 the country's fruit basket.

The private firms related to agri-business from other provinces have been keen to invest and set up their business in Balochistan. Unfortunately, these firms were neither encouraged by the provincial government, nor by the local communities. There are still social and political barriers hindering investment from private firms in the development of fruit farms in the province. The local people need to change their radical behavior and open the province for investment from domestic and foreign agri-firms.

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.

The micro-irrigation systems need to be introduced widely to cope with problem of water shortage in fruit growing areas of the province. For the last few years, the fruit crops in northern Balochistan have adversely been affected by scarcity of water, as tube wells were not operating fully and efficiently for power shortage. Trickle Irrigation System has been recognized as a method of irrigation which provides maximum possible irrigation water efficiency and which is claimed to be up to 90 per cent.

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.

The government should extend rural credits to small farmers for horticulture development in the province. The lack of finance does not enable the cash-strapped 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.