Conditions for fruit cultivation are ideal in Pakistan and yet production is low
Pakistan is climatically capable of growing fruits easily and in abundance. Evidence for the growth of fruit and vegetables in the subcontinent has been provided from ancient times, citricultureis known from the Indus valley civilization times for some 4000 years. The climatic diversity is such that it allows cultivation of nearly all types of fruit- temperate, tropical and subtropical.
Apple, apricot, cherry, peach, pear, plum, grape, strawberry and currant are temperate fruit; banana, mango, guava, papaya and tamarind are tropical fruit that cannot stand even light frost, and date, fig, orange and pomegranates are subtropical fruit.
Because of high prices and low awareness among the poor, fruit consumption is less among urban and rural poor while the upper income group consumes fruit well above the average.
The estimates of per capita consumption of fruit are about 33kg/year which is below the minimum level necessary. A Gallup investigation in 2019 established that only 26% of the population consume fruit every day. This is much too less given the fact that fruit consumption supports bodily as well as the mental health of people. That is why the consumption of fruit has to be encouraged for its beneficial impact on public health.
Pakistan is the sixth largest producer of Kinnow (mandarin) and oranges in the world. Constituting 80% of the citrus fruit, Kinnow, is a major export commodity. A record 370,000 tons amounting to $222 million were exported in 2017 compared to 325,000 tons in 2016.
Pakistan grows citrus fruit over an area of 206,569 hectares in all the four provinces with a total production of around 2.5 million tons as per 2015-16 statistics. Punjab produces over 98% of the fruit mainly in Sargodha district because of its favourable growing conditions and adequate canal and sub-soil water. The application of modern techniques and traditional practices at all stages of growth and during the post-harvest phase add value to the fruit which attracts premium prices and also increases exports fetching foreign exchange.
The Citrus Research Institute in Sargodha is responsible for undertaking “research and development” work on kinnow and other citrus varieties, besides the Pakistan Agricultural Research Council (PARC).
In recent years Pakistan has lost its foremost position in Kinnow production because of diseases resulting in low yield, poor quality of fruit and the lack of international compatibility with the much liked seedless kinnow. Pakistan may lose even the existing export markets if the challenges are not adequately addressed.
Like other crops, the citrus is also attacked by a variety of insects, pests and diseases. Some of these insects, pests and diseases not only affect quality and quantity of the produce, but also hurt plant life. In addition, Pakistani citrus orchards have a lower life cycle as compared to other citrus growing countries.
There is no dedicated citrus breeding centre in the main growing area of Sargodha (which shows bad state of kinnow research) and the nursery stock obtained from existing mother trees is weak, infested with diseases and is of inferior quality.
Therefore, the orchards established with the help of such saplings are not good for getting higher yields and producing quality kinnow. Citrus growers in Sargodha have reported about poor outreach programme of the Agricultural Extension Department. Lack of awareness among the growers about selecting and planting quality saplings, lack of proper traditional practices like pruning, field operation, timely watering, disease control and other operations may lead to the loss of yield as well as quality output.
There is, therefore, a need to quickly initiate development of improved varieties and for the purpose, PARC, as well as the Citrus Research Institute Sargodha and provincial agriculture departments, should join hands.
Fruit par excellence of the subcontinent.
Pakistan produces over 150 varieties of mango. The soil and climatic conditions of Pakistan are highly suitable for mango cultivation. According to FAO production year book of 2001, Pakistan stands FIFTH among mango growing countries of the world. The area under mango crop has increased but the rise in production is comparatively slow.
The main mango growing districts in Punjab are Multan, Bahawalpur, Muzzaffaragarh and Rahim Yar Khan. In Sindh, it is mainly grown in Mirpur Khas, Hyderabad and Thatta, in North West Frontier Province it is grown in Peshawar and Mardan.
The climate of Sindh gets warmer about one month earlier than the Punjab which has given the province the privilege to grow early varieties of mango. Subsequently, a new trend of growing late varieties in Punjab has received wide popularity which has extended the market period and added to the exportable surplus.
The production of mangoes rose in 2019 to 1.5 million tons, worth a reported US$80 million, up from 1.3 million in 2018. Pakistan is the world’s sixth-largest exporter of the fruit. The Middle East remains the top export destination for Pakistani mangoes, accounting for over 70 percent of the share of total mango exports last year. The premium varieties like Chaunsa, Sindhri and Anwar Ratol were most liked in the Middle East, because of their special flavour and aroma.
Apple is very nutritious and delicious fruit. It is very rich in Vitamin C, B and A. It contains about 11% sugar besides essential minerals in appreciable amounts. It has colour appeal and is most refreshing. It can be used in many different ways. It is cooked, made into preserves, jellied, candied, canned, and prepared as fresh apple juice, made into cider or vinegar. The peel is used for making pectin. In spite of some serious pests and disease problems there is an increasing trend for bringing more area under apple because of better returns.
Apple grows in a more temperate climate. That is why Baluchistan is the key contributor of apple production while Khyber Pakhtunkhwa contributes 25% percent of national apple growth. KPK stands second.
For apple production, rain is the main requirement. If it does not rain, the tree would not provide the fruit. That is why apple-producing areas are not plain lands but are located in the mountainous region.
Apple production in Baluchistan has increased due to the scientific research-based farming implemented there. By using research, Baluchistan’s apple is in high demand. In addition, its per-acre production has also increased. There is a need for this type of research and implementation in other provinces too, especially in Swat where apple production has decreased.
These examples of fruit produced in Pakistan have one feature in common: while climatic conditions are favourable for cultivation, production is below average and in general sinking. There is an overall need for more research so as to enable orchards to produce more and defend the fruit from diseases that diminish yield and damage quality of fruit and plants.
In order to achieve that policy outlines have to be developed and research institutions have to be supported so that improved results could be achieved. In that way fruit can be made a valuable export article and an addition to the diet of Pakistanis.
(This is the Fourth part of a series on Pakistan’s cash crops by Ikram Sehgal. He is a defence and security analyst and Dr Bettina Robotka is a former Professor of South Asian Studies, Humboldt University, Berlin)