DESPITE bumper harvests of dates in Sindh last season, a sizable quantity of the fruit was of inferior quality, lacking the needed growth in size.
Date-growers also faced post-harvest problems like non-existence of processing and dehydration facilities. According to growers, the Research Station at Kot Diji of Sindh Agriculture Department was of no help to them.
Sindh contributes a major share in country’s date production. The fruit is grown in Khairpur, Rohri, Benazirabad and Naushehro Feroze districts. Aseel and Karbali are the popular varieties of dates in Sindh. Orchard owners want to grow Deglet Nour of Egypt and Amber of Saudi Arabia in Sindh as the soil and climatic condition of Khairpur district is suitable for production of these varieties. For this, they are seeking government help.
This year, the crop this has been hit by a new disease. Date producers were unable to control the disease as the conventional spray methodology did not work. Research Station officials remained least bothered about the problem. The Sindh Horticulture Research Institute (SHRI) in Mirpurkhas, which administratively controls the research station at Kot Diji, also did not strive to offer any help to the growers.
Choara (unripe dried date) is exported to India. India exports it to other countries under its brand name with some value addition. Besides, the lack of storage facilities, dehydration and processing plants are the major hurdles in the export of the fruit.
Growers say dates crop matures with the advent of monsoon season and adds to their worries about fear of damage to the fruit.
Simultaneously, the fruit starts dropping compelling the growers to harvest it. But in the absence of storage or dehydration facilities, they collect the unripe dates and dehydrate them manually.
The veteran date producer of Khairpur Qazi Azizur Rehman says this year choara is being exported to India at a slower pace.
Market dealers are not purchasing it right now. He argues that a huge potential lies in this sector provided date- growers are guided by research station as how to protect the fruit against diseases and improve its quality and variety. “We need to work in tandem,” he says. “Date is grown in Khairpur alone on over 100,000 acres by 30,000 growers. Out of the total crop 90 per cent is choara as there is no proper means to manage the ripe fruit.”
According to Abdul Aziz Bhambro, this year his plentiful crop was hit by disease as he didn’t know how to protect the fruits.
General Secretary Khairpur dates market Mujeebullah said growers unnecessarily sprayed the crop at its ripening stage to save the fruit from dropping. “But the spray, on the contrary damaged the fruit by restricting its growth. Almost 70 per cent of this year’s bumper crop was of C grade,” he said.
He points out that in other countries dates syrup is produced but in Pakistan no research is carried out in this regard. “The marketing needs immediate government support without further waste of time,” he says.
Pakistan’s environment is ideal for date cultivation. Varieties of dates are in high demand in Asian and European countries which can earn Pakistan sizeable foreign exchange provided its full potential is exploited.
Recently, the French Ambassador had observed that Pakistan could earn $200 million to $240 million by exporting dates to France and had urged the two governments to work in tandem in this regard.
The date producing areas in the country need advanced processing and preserving facilities. There is also a need of superior branding and training of growers to enhance production and export of the fruit.