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Best fruits and seafood produce in Balochistan: An asset to boost export, attract investment

Published on 17th Oct, Edition 42, 2016

 

There is good potential for expanding fruit and seafood production from Balochistan which is naturally rich in number of resources. Fruit crops must be able to tolerate the hot and humid summers; and extremely cold winter weather and luckily Balochistan meets all these extremes of weather but what is missing the proper governance and basic infrastructure to make well use of this food rich province. The development of fruit farms is essential to increase fruit exports from Balochistan.

Moreover the strategically located province offers access to new resources and markets and the prospect of more rapid growth. The province’s geo-strategic location makes it the most attractive for transit traffic to the landlocked Central Asian Republics (CARs) while underdeveloped Gwadar port would provide Afghanistan and the CARs the shortest and fastest access to the warm waters of the Arabian Sea. The port can also provide them with warehousing facilities along with transit and possibilities of import of goods. The province offers the investors lucrative opportunities to invest in fruit farms.

According to records, the province contributes 90% national production of grapes, cherry and almonds, 60% of peach, pomegranate, apricot and 34% of apple and 70% of dates. The province makes up to 70 percent of Pakistan’s total coastal line. It enjoys diversity of marine life in nature. Its coastline is the most productive marine ecosystem of the world. It is estimated that 60 species of fish and 10 of shrimps, including the best in the world, are found in the province. It produces 200,000 tons of fish per year, of which 80,000 tons are fished by trawlers from Sindh.

Need of expanding fruit export

Export of fruits is considered a big source of foreign exchange. Pakistan enjoys robust position in world apple market. It is worth mentioning that a very good quality apple are available in Pakistan, 80% of which are produced in Balochistan, but unfortunately no any proper treatment plant for their preservation was established yet. Fruit crops are grown over an area of 149,726 hectares in Balochistan and approximately 889490 tons of production is achieved annually. Apples, almonds, grapes, apricots, peaches, plums and dates are grown over an area of 48,329 hectares, 10,621 hectares, 12,240 hectares, 10,999 hectares, 3,945 hectares, 3,872 hectares and 43,099 hectares, respectively.

Fruit production in highland Balochistan, which contains south-western region, depends on the availability of ground water. 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.

Fruit crops are grown in the northern parts of the province. Its huge yield potential of high quality deciduous fruits can efficiently be tapped by making investments in establishing ‘crop specific zone’ and ‘fruit processing units’ in the province. 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.

There is a need to 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 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 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 break down has been playing havoc with these fruit crops. Efficient crop management can increase the profits of local farmers in Balochistan and decrease their costs involved in fruit production. Pre-harvest contractors and commission agents largely benefit from the fruit production and the poor farmers continue to reel under the miserable socio-economic conditions.

What is direly needed is to enable the farmers to sell their produce directly eliminating the role of middlemen in the marketing channel. Like wheat crop the government may fix a support price for the fruit crops setting a procurement target for the ex-harvest year and the government agencies should directly purchase the produce from the farmers at the fixed price.

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.

Treatment plants are essential for preservation of fruits in Balochistan, mainly for the apples and dates. The provincial government and community-based organizations should play their role in eliminating the social and political barriers to attract investment from private sector in the province. They should open-handedly welcome the investment from private parties based in other provinces.

Seafood export

The fisheries export potential of the province needs to be tapped fully and efficiently. Steps need to be taken on priority basis to introduce new technologies and impart training to the local fishermen for fishing on modern lines. There is a need to rehabilitate the local fishermen and improve the conditions under which they work. Increasing cost of transportation and lack of preservation technology are the main hurdles barring the local fisherman to fish in deep waters. The working capital should be provided to purchase fuel, ration and ice, overhead expenses i.e. labor, packaging, processing and cleaning items required for export of fish.

Shrimp farming is an important economic activity, which can develop unproductive salty coastal areas of Balochistan. The land along coastal belt has enormous potential for development of shrimp farming and processing projects, which can play a vital role in fisheries development in the province. Technical assistance from National Institute of Oceanography (NIO) may be sought for shrimp farming on extensive level in Balochistan. Establishment of a dehydration plant in Balochistan is under consideration of the federal government.

The economic planners should also devise the strategies for production of quality farm-raised shrimps and for exploitation of tremendous marketing opportunities in the world market. The three major markets for farm-raised shrimp are the United States, Europe and Japan. Efforts should be made for setting up environment-friendly shrimp farms in Balochistan, as environmental deterioration in shrimp farms and coastal waters is common evidence after intensive shrimp farming due to the accumulation of organic waste.

Previous government planned to construct 8 shrimp farms on the basis of private-public partnership in the province. Each model shrimp farm comprised of up to 100 pond units of 1-2 acres each, 75 per cent of these ponds were to be for private sector.

Government should announce incentives for induction of the private sector in fisheries development, as the interested entrepreneurs and investors can promote the shrimp farming in the province purely on the commercial basis. The provincial government should allot lands in coastal districts to private parties interested in promoting shrimp farming.

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