Lemon prices have shot up by more than 35 per cent over last two months to touch Rs130-140 per kg due to increasing summer demand. Further rise in prices is expected as Ramadan is drawing near.
This citrus fruit used to improve taste of food items and as an ingredient for home-made remedies, was available in the retail market at Rs70-80 per kg during April. Prime lemon growing areas in Punjab (Sargodha, Sahiwal, Sialkot, Multan) and Sindh (Sukkur, Khairpur, Nawabshah) received scanty rainfall during the fruit bearing season this summer.
Bad weather has led to a forecast of low production. The dry spell in these areas has delayed and also minimised the harvest.
Farmers usually sell their produce to middlemen or contractors who supply the fruit to big cities. Hence the contractors are in a position to tip the market in their favour.
Hike in prices is due to drop in supply from major producing areas this year. Traders declare that quality of lemon is good but its supply is not enough.
Against the normal arrival of 8-9 trucks of lemon (each carrying about 12 tonnes approximately), only 4-5 trucks are currently reaching retail markets. Fresh lemon market prices reflect enhanced demand and increase in production costs. The growers have no information about prices in markets other than their local mandi.
And more than 90 per cent lemon growers sell harvesting rights of their orchards to contractors.
India is the leading producer of lemon, accounting for about 16 per cent of global production followed by Mexico, Argentina, Brazil and Spain. Only five countries export more than 100,000 tonnes of lemon.
Lemon is cultivated in Pakistan on a large scale and domestic needs are met by local production. Punjab produces 95 per cent of lemon due to its suitable climatic conditions but price is raised in every summer due to growing demand. Apart from fresh fruit consumption, change in food habits of people the world over and their appetite for exotic food is increasing.
New techniques need to be introduced to improve shelf-life of lemon products including its juices.
Lemon tree is a sub-tropical plant, probably a hybrid of two wild species, most likely lime and citron. Lemon plant starts bearing fruits in three years but its real produce comes after six years.
The plant has a total life span of about 25-30 years. However, disease can cause the death of the tree in five years as well. Mature lemon trees may produce between 1,000 and 2,000 fruits per year.
Prime lemon growing varieties include Eureka, Lisbon lemon, and Rough lemon. Marketability of lemons depends on the stage at which they are picked. Generally, lemons are cured at 56º to 58º F and 85-90 per cent relative humidity.
Appropriate post harvest storage makes it possible to store lemons with minimum damage for as long as six months. Factors responsible for low lemon yield are: poor and erratic flowering; winter temperatures too warm for good flower bud differentiation; excessive wet season vegetative growth which is prone to Citrus Leaf Miner attack and causes trees to become large and reduced flowering and fruiting; granulation of pulp, and heat injury.
The world market for lemon is expanding. Exporting countries are striving to further expand their market share as new markets open up with trade liberalisation.
If the government promotes some lemon-based agro industries in the country, it would further boost this horticulture crop. There is need to plant more lemon orchards to increase local use as well as export.