The overall production of fruits has been falling for some years owing to a decline in the area under cultivation, lack of required investment in orchard management, and failure to contain much of post-harvest losses.
However, export of fruits, continue to rise thanks to market diversification, investment by some export houses in fruit processing and value-addition, and growing use of web-based marketing.
Statistical records of the Ministry of National Food Security and Research reveal that the total production of fruits gradually slumped from 7.01m tonnes in FY09 to 6.52m tonnes in FY13. And, this decline is not due to lower-than-usual production in just one province. All four provinces have reported a falling trend both in the area under cultivation as well as in fruit production.. Nevertheless, fruit exports increased from $162m in FY09 to $393m in FY13—and to $438m in FY14.
Officials of the Pakistan Horticulture Development Board say the area under fruit cultivation has shrunk in favour of major crops — wheat, rice, cotton, maize and sugarcane — as these yield higher incomes
The fruits whose output has declined include mango, banana, pomegranate, guava, date, apricot, peach, pear, plum, loquat, chiku, coconut, cherry, papaya, persimmon, melons and watermelons.
Production of citrus fruits, too, remains static around 2m tonnes for the period under review. But growers say output of citrus fruits rose past 3m tonnes in FY14 due to better orchard-care and lesser post-harvest losses.
Many citrus fruit growers and processors have contained such losses at 15pc or less, down from 20-25pc a few years ago due to some investment made in fruit picking, storage, transportation and grading. The bulk of this investment has been made by the private fruit processing and export companies or traditional investors who buy full crop of selected orchards in advance, either on behalf of exporters or on their own.
Officials of Pakistan Horticulture Development Board say the area under cultivation of fruits has shrunk in favour of major crops i.e. wheat, rice, cotton, maize and sugarcane because these crops yield higher incomes. The total area under cultivation of all fruits has contracted from about 856,000 hectares in FY09 to a little less than 820,000 hectares, official stats show.
A big decline in the area under cultivation has been recorded in case of banana, apple and apricot. The output of citrus fruits has remained static (or even seen a modest increase as claimed by orchard owners) because growers of citrus fruits, the biggest export revenue earner, have made investment for better orchard management.
Officials of provincial agriculture departments of Sindh and Punjab say the area under citrus fruits, apple and apricot has shrunk in favour of wheat maize. But the areas cleared off banana plantations, mostly in Sindh, have been used for growing rice, cotton or sugarcane.
Frequent increases in support prices of staple food crops between 2009-2013 has encouraged a number of fruit growers to switch over to these crops, growers say.
Fruit farmers say a key obstacle in the way of improving the per-tree production of various fruits is the lack of knowledge about specific diseases of fruits and the medicinal spray required to fight it. They say the Agriculture University of Faisalabad, PHDB and PCSIR have done some research work on fruits diseases but neither government nor the private sector come forward to invest in manufacturing of the required disease-fighting pesticides. Most of the pesticides they use are imported and prove too costly for small and medium-sized orchard owners.
An equally important factor in fruit production is boosting the yield of fruits per tree and that requires development of high-yield varieties in the first place. Growers say they have planted new varieties of citrus fruits, including seedless kinnow, which have been evolved in the last few years. But growers, who use these varieties, are not offered constant technical help from horticulture department to ensure that the new varieties retain high productivity for a long time.
They also point out that for past few years no new high-yield varieties of mango and apple have been developed and some varieties of banana, dates and grapes, that have been evolved are not being produced on commercial scale.
Production of apple, grape, pear, peach and apricot has also suffered in the recent past in troubled areas of KP and Balochistan.
Limited availability of cold storage facilities in and around the clusters of fruit orchards also affects fruits production because it results in high post-harvest losses, estimated up to 40pc. According to PHDB study on the status of fruits’ production, over dependence on wooden crates and cardboard boxes for fruit packaging, too, discourages growers in those areas where these items are brought to fruit farms from far-away urban markets to pick and pack fresh fruits often not on time.
Published in Dawn, Economic & Business, February 16th, 2015