KARACHI: Sindh’s multibillion date trade will come to an end once India’s 0.5 million date palm trees mature and start producing fruit in a couple of years, stakeholders have said.
Dry dates worth more than Rs8 billion were under threat, as India has halted its import from Pakistan by putting 200 percent import duty on it on February 16, 2019.
Stakeholders told The News that India grew 0.5 million date palm trees in Rajasthan three 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.
Sindh Chamber of Agriculture Khairpur President Nisar Hussain Khaskhely said, “We have been showing our concerns since last three years, but to no avail.” The government was not paying any attention to finding new markets for the dry date producers, he lamented.
He said dry dates worth Rs8.0 billion were lying in the district, while exports had halted as more than 95 percent dates were being exported to India alone, which it used on its religious festivals. According to data of Pakistan Horticulture Development and Export Company (PHDEC), Pakistan exports only 13 percent fresh dates, while 87 percent were exported as dry dates.
In 2017, Pakistan exported 175,000 tons of dates while it imported 7,000 tons of fresh dates, which were mostly consumed in Ramazan. In 2018, Pakistan’s exports dropped by 28.7 percent to 136,000 tons while imports increased by 30 percent to 10,000 tons. Aseel is a major date variety of Sindh. It is cultivated on thousands of acres in district Khairpur alone, where 80 percent of the produce is dried, of which more than 96 percent is exported to India.
Pakistan also exports dry dates in a very small quantity to UK, Bangladesh, Germany and Turkey. Pakistan fulfils India’s dry dates demand by 99.6 percent, while it takes 0.4 percent from Oman. India imports 30 percent of the world’s dry dates, almost all from Pakistan.
Livelihood of around 100,000 growers and farmers is related to the date palm in the district, Khaskhely said. In addition, livelihoods of 200 exporters are also attached to date trading.
Sindh is the second largest date growing province in Pakistan following Balochistan. According to Pakistan Bureau of Statistics’ Year
Book 2016, Pakistan grows dates on 97,100 hectares of land. Of which, Balochistan led with 53,200 hectares, Sindh 36,500 hectares, Punjab 5,800 hectares and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa 1,600 hectares.
During that period, the country received production of 211,300 tons from Balochistan, 201,200 tons from Sindh, 42,900 tons from Punjab, and 12,300 tons from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.
Abudullah Rafi, secretary finance, Sindh Chamber of Agriculture, said Pakistan produced the lowest yield and value dates in the world, which were fed to horses in Europe.
Khaskhely said immature dates were picked before monsoon rains and dried and processed for the market. “Date fruiting season and monsoon fall during the same months,” he added.
He suggested growing other varieties of dates, which matured earlier or later than monsoon to save the crop. Plant tissue culture could help Sindh grow many different varieties of date palms in Sindh, including Dhaki, available in Dera Ismail Khan, Barhee, Madjool, Douglas Noor, Ajwah, Al Khumaizi, Khalasah and Rotab. “This way, the country can increase its dates’ value by many times,” Khaskhely added.
He informed that around 500 plants of other varieties have been sown in the district, while only tissue culture plants could save the future of date trade in Pakistan. “We can grow hundreds of thousands of plants under tissue culture, which are developed in France, California and UK with a laboratory in Middle East,” he said.
Despite of several attempts from the growers, no one in the federal government has taken notice of the halt in the trade of dry dates.
Member of National Assembly Nafeesa Shah made several attempts, including writing letters to the federal authorities and voicing in the NA, but no action has been taken as yet.
Crop worth Rs8.0 billion was getting spoiled, while the new season was approaching fast.
Nisar Khaskhely in a letter to the Secretary Commerce Division demanded support in establishment of processing plants with public-private partnership, cold storages, training of workers, import of tissue culture plants from Middle East, and finding new markets for Pakistani dates.
Growers said that the future of dry dates and livelihood of hundreds of thousands people remained on stake until serious efforts were taken at the government level.