Pakistan has missed the kinno export target by 33 per cent as the four-month season draws to an early close.
The country exported around 200,000 tonnes of kinno against the target of 300,000 tonnes. The season officially ends on March 15 every year. But more than 60pc factories were closed by the end of February.
The drop in kinno exports is sharp as Pakistan sold 370,000 tonnes in the foreign market last year. Although a group of exporters has expressed some doubt about that figure, the Pakistan Fruit and Vegetable Exporters, Importers and Merchants Association insists that it is accurate and claims to have earned $222 million. Going by that figure, the drop is just under 50pc year-on-year.
On top of it, exporters have said the downward trend will not only continue but is also expected to worsen going forward. Terming the early close of the export season a sign that the worst is yet to come, the exporters warn that kinno exports are now a matter of “a few years”.
The fruit has not only lost most of the international market but is also losing the residual demand because of multiple factors, such as diseases, lack of certification, high prices and a massive increase in the cost of business.
Pakistan exports less than 10pc of its kinno crop. Per-acre yields in Spain, Morocco and even Turkey are around 450-500 maunds as opposed to Pakistan’s average of 150 maunds
“All these factors have neutralised the effect of a steep devaluation of the rupee (around 32pc) this season,” says Shahid Sultan, an exporter from Sargodha who also serves as a director on the board of Pakistan Horticulture Development and Export Company (PHDEC), a federal body that looks after horticulture exports.
“One can imagine the true status of kinno exports and their future prospects as the massive devaluation coupled with a domestic price fall in almost equal measure failed to spur foreign sales,” he says.
His views were seconded by Saadat Ejaz Qureshi, an exporter from Lahore and former chairman of PHDEC. Highlighting the root cause of the problem, Mr Qureshi says that the kinno crop is diseased, adding that no agency can certify low-quality and diseased fruit for export.
“Pakistan does not have even a single disease-free nursery. It means even the replacement trees cannot be taken as disease-free. If a tree is diseased, who can certify the nursery? If the nursery is diseased, who will certify the fruit as fit for export? This is the reason our kinno is being pushed out of the world market,” he says.
Even in relatively low-end and relaxed markets, competitors like Turkey, Morocco and China are elbowing Pakistan aside on the price factor. Exporters sent around 1,500 containers to Indonesia in December alone, but the number dropped to less than 100 as China entered in January and swept the market with its low-price and better-quality kinno.
The level of exports to Russia, which is a market for small-size kinno, always depends on other markets that consume bigger-size kinno. With the Indonesian market drying out, exports to Russia also fell because exporters were left without a market for their bigger-size fruit. Morocco quickly fulfilled Russia’s demand and, hence, two of the biggest markets were lost in one month, explains Mr Qureshi.
Exporters plead for immediate measures to save kinno exports, which brought home either $170m (as per PHDEC’s last year’s figures) or $222m (as per the claim of the exporters’ representative body).
Both bodies agree that kinno exports have the potential to grow beyond the $1bn mark within a few years. At present, Pakistan exports less than 10pc of its grossly under-produced crop. Per-acre yields in Spain, Morocco and even Turkey are around 450-500 maunds compared with Pakistan’s average of 150 maunds.
With new and better-yielding varieties, total production of kinno can easily cross 6m tonnes from the current 2.2m tonnes while exports can reach the 1m-tonne mark.
Fortunately, Pakistan has the knowledge base to grow its kinno exports. After starting exports in the late 1980s, Pakistani writers wrote a few books on the subject in the early 1990s. Nursery rules were written in 1998. Exports standards were developed more than a decade ago. In the last three years alone, two voluminous reports were produced on the subject. One of these reports was financed by the United Nations Industrial Development Organisation (UNIDO) and the other was by the Punjab government.
The Punjab government was warned by its market intelligence wing that the citrus business is sliding fast and may create social unrest in Sargodha. It ordered a detailed study and sought recommendations to avoid such a situation. Now these reports are gathering dust in government offices.
“Academics can only rectify knowledge deficiency — something that they have done regularly,” says Dr Iqrar A Khan, former vice chancellor of the University of Agriculture, Faisalabad, and co-author of the two reports. The need is to build an action plan based on those reports and execute it, Dr Khan says. “Nothing will work unless that action plan is put in place, executed, monitored and updated regularly to absorb new realities.”
Published in Dawn, The Business and Finance Weekly, March 11th, 2019