KARACHI: Date exports declined to an alarming level in the last two years as lower prices are discouraging growers, a provincial minister said on Monday.

Sindh Minister for Agriculture Ismail Rahu the country earned $103 million 2016, $108 million in 2017 and $113 million in 2018 from date exports. However, the exports declined to the alarming level to $71 million in 2019 and far below than that last year.

Rahu said Khairpur district produced top quality ‘aseel’ variety of date, which was exported to UAE, Nepal, Oman, India and other countries after fulfilling the local demand. He blamed the PTI government for deliberately damaging Sindh’s agriculture. Date palm situation is similar to onion and tomato for which growers were compelled to damage their own crop because of low prices.

Nisar Khaskheli, president of Data Palm Growers Association Khairpur, told The News that there was need to take practical measures to increase export of dry dates of Sindh. Besides, there is need to grow export-oriented dates.

Khaskheli said Pakistan should discourage imports and promote the local varieties. Imported dates are available at price of up to Rs2,200 per kg while local substitute is available at Rs200 per kg.

India was the largest importer of dry dates of Pakistan, which imposed 200 percent duty two years back. “The federal government can get it removed when situation is normal with India,” he said.

“We are still exporting to India through Dubai, but it increases expenditures.”

Khaskheli said the commerce division or Trade Development Authority of Pakistan could be useful in exploring new markets.

“If India is not buying then Sri Lanka can buy, or we can explore Eastern Europe or Russian markets, which have cold weather and our dates would be useful for them,” he said. “Otherwise, it would be wasted. The crop is bumper this year supported by the weather. New harvesting will be done in August.”

Abudullah Rafi, a grower at Sindh Chamber of Agriculture, the country produces the lowest yield and value dates in the world, which are fed to horses in Europe. Sindh grows ‘aseel’variety of date palm, whose 90 percent is converted into dry dates while more than 98 percent of it is exported to India.

Since ‘aseel’ dates mature during the monsoon, growers don’t wait and make dry the immature crop. Due to the enormous increase in the duty by India, dry dates worth more than Rs8 billion are under threat.

Stakeholders said India grew 0.5 million date palm trees in Rajasthan few years ago, which would begin fruiting soon. This, they said, would put an end to dry date imports from Pakistan, as date plants start giving fruit in three to five years. “We have been showing our concerns since the last five years, but to no avail,” Khaskheli said. “The government is not paying any attention to finding new markets for the dry date producers.” Pakistan exports only 13 percent fresh dates, while 87 percent are exported as dry dates, according to data of Pakistan Horticulture Development and Export Company.

The country fulfils India’s dry dates demand by 99.6 percent, while the latter takes 0.4 percent from Oman. India imports 30 percent of the world’s dry dates, almost all from Pakistan, which also exports dry dates in a very small quantity to UK, Bangladesh, Germany and Turkey.

Livelihoods of around 100,000 growers and farmers are related to the date palm in the district Khairpur, Khaskheli said. Around 200 exporters are engaged in date trading.

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