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Snags in boosting date exports              
By Mohammad Hussain Khan

May 9, 2011: DATE producers expect a fairly good crop in Sindh this season, but fear post-harvest losses because of lack of proper drying, processing and storage facilities. Horticulturist Qurban Jaskani of Date Palm Research Station, Kot Diji farm, believes that the fruit setting is satisfactory in Sindh where it is grown on 62,000 hectares. “Our recent survey reveals that in 70 per cent cases the crop is good. However, fruit dropping has been reported from Pir jo Goth and Ahmedpur in taluka Kingri due to water shortage. At this crucial stage of fruit setting water is a must for the crop,” he says.

According to him, only 13 out of many varieties produced in Sindh have been registered so far. The major share of the fruit comes from Khairpur in Sindh where Aseel and Karbalai, two popular varieties, are produced. Dates are also grown in Rohri, Nawabshah and Naushahro Feroze in Sindh but on a small scale.

Khuda Bux Phulpoto, who grows dates on 30 acres, complains that rains always create problems for date growers in managing the fruit. “It is difficult to manage the crop during monsoon because ripe dates start dropping and need to be dried under sunlight in hygienic condition. That`s why growers need cold storage and processing facilities for the fruit,” he says.

The growers believe that Pakistan has not been able to exploit the full potential of the fruit in the international market for lack of investment in post-harvest facilities which can help improve its quality. The growers adopt manual practices to dehydrate the fruit after its harvest, which is not up to mark.
 

 


Dates usually mature in mid-July, though some varieties reach the market in June. It is always the monsoon season that synchronises with the crop`s harvest which damages the fully ripe dates. To save the crop from monsoon`s effect, farmers collect hard, unripe dates and boil them, which are called choara . The half-ripe date is dried under the sun. Because of rains farmers do not wait for the rest of the crop to mature and harvest it. The fruit is often dried in unhygienic conditions as it is spread on straw mats for drying under sunlight. The dates are graded according to their quality and size.

Progressive farmer Qadir Bux Mari advocates modern technology for dates processing to push up it exports. He believes that currently the production of dry dates exceeds the production of fresh dates (fully ripe dates) because the growers have to boil them for fear of being damaged in monsoon rains.

According to Mari, the government must establish a research institute and infrastructure to develop tissue culture techniques. Some varieties like Deglet Nour of Egypt, Amber of Saudi Arabia are needed to be obtained for cultivation here as climatic conditions of Khairpur district are favourable for them. He says that Sindh`s Aseel date has 65 per cent sugar content and is in demand in France and Germany for their use in bakeries. But the main hurdle in enhancing their export is the lack of processing and storage facilities. Dry date or Choara is exported to India on a large scale, where it is widely used on occasions of religious rituals by the Hindu community.

The growers demand setting up of cold storages and processing units in the date-growing areas. They also want construction of farm-to-market roads besides transparency in market mechanism to facilitate export of dates and earning precious foreign exchange.

Dates palm makes Pakistan the fifth major producer in the world with a production of about 535,000-600,000 metric tons. Of the various varieties grown here, 85 per cent is Aseel and Karbalai. Other varieties are Fasli, Muzawati, Hillawi, Begum Jangi, Dashtiari, Sabzo, Jaan Swore, Kehraba, Rabai and Dhakki. Dates are also produced in Turbat and Panjgoor areas in Balochistan, Muzaffar Garh and Jhang in Punjab and Dera Ismail Khan in Khyber Pakhtunkha.

The growers need to give up auctioning their orchards to contractors and manage them themselves for better yield and earning..
 

Courtesy: The DAWN

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