ULTIMATELY, there is some good news for farmers as Punjab wakes up to its agriculture export potential and to sensitivities of international buyers. It has started efforts to help farmers get international certification for quality production, ensuring traceability of every export item right back to the farmers, and even to trees and animals.
As a first mark of its seriousness to pursue this paradigm shift, which the exports have long been advocating, Punjab has transferred Rs2 billion to the project ‘Supply Chain Improvement of Selected Agriculture and Livestock Products’ and promised “as much additional money as required for it.”
Based on its agriculture potential and experts’ optimism for a niche in the international market, Punjab has set a target of $2 billion horticulture and livestock exports by 2015 which at present are stuck at mere $359 million.
Would it be able to achieve that ambitious target of almost doubling its exports ever year? The provincial planners are hopeful, and argue: the food requirements are changing – people in the developed world are now more into fruits, juices and vegetables for health reasons. It gives immense potential to countries like Pakistan where four distinct seasons make it possible to grow a wade range of crops.
In addition, the world population would grow to nine billion by 2050. It would mean that the world would have an additional population of equal to China and half of India to feed. The food for this additional population would come from countries like Pakistan which have huge untapped potential.
This paradigm shift in Punjab’s perception about itself has a history. At the turn of the century, it launched a project the “Rejuvenation of Orchards,” which raised farmers’ awareness about potential of their orchards and increased their ability to reclaim that potential. Model blocs of orchards were created and farmers were trained in pruning, fertilisation and harvesting. To follow it up, the province launched another five-year project called the “Fruits and Vegetable Development” in 2004.
At present, the province is running second five-year phase of the project. During this decade, the international community also came to Pakistan’s help and the USAID and especially the Australians helped it in horticulture areas. The federation also lunched the Pakistan Horticulture Development and Export Board (PHDEB). All these initiatives helped the province achieve a certain level of awareness and a solid launching pad, from where it is now trying to take off.
In January next it is planning to attend the “Green Weak” in Germany, where over half a million buyers, traders and general public would turn up to trade, buy and sell food items. It has already booked a stall and started a process of certifications through international auditors to prepare as many farms as possible for participation.
The idea it is trying to sell is the “Traceable Pakistan.” It is certainly a saleable point given recent international surveys, which has shown growing international sensitivity on traceability of exports. Many surveys have indicated that the European buyers now want to know every minute detail about the product they want to use and eat, including address of the farm, its certifications, processing (factory name and address) details, tests (irradiation, feed tests) and logistics (mode, temperature). All these international requirements have been clubbed under “product traceability.” The traceability certification is now considered as a passport to international markets and chains.
That is precisely the point where Punjab is now moving. Initially, it has included mango pulp, potato, tomato, onion, cucumber, okra, bell-pepper, red-chilies, basmati rice, parboiled rice, beef and mutton in the list of items to be marketed at this international agriculture and livestock exhibition.
States like Chile and Thailand have literally multiplied their horticulture exports within years. But it became possible for them only after achieving a certain legal, infrastructural and awareness level at home. Pakistan is still nowhere near to that stage.
Second, its needs to develop domestic standards for all those products that it wants to export. Until and unless, Punjab develops standards-sensitive domestic market, it would be very difficult for international buyers. All those countries who achieved some level of export, concentrated on domestic front first.
Finally, long-term planning and commitment is required to achieve strategic objectives.