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Bustling dry fruits market

November 19, 2012

With the arrival of winter, prices of dry fruits have started rising in wholesale and retail markets.

Traders at Jodia Bazar say prices of more than half a dozen dry fruits have gone up by no less than 25-30 per cent from where they were at the beginning of last winter.

Traders say that the price-hike is both because of higher domestic intake and export-led buying. Pakistan exports fresh and dry dates, pine nuts (chilgoza) kernel, sweet and bitter apricot seeds and raisins. The market expects further price-hikes as temperatures fall to new lows and as export demand gathers pace. Active buying by exporters of dry fruits like peanuts, pistachios, cashew nuts, almonds and figs are up primarily because of their increased domestic demand.

Good quality shell almonds are being sold at Rs 800-Rs900 per kg and almonds without shell between Rs1200 and Rs1600 per kg. The price of walnut has risen to Rs 600 per kg against last year’s Rs450 per kg whereas walnut meat is selling for Rs1200-Rs1400 per kg.

Traders at Jodia Bazar and Empress Market say that the price of dried apricot has gone up to Rs 800 per kg against Rs 500 per kg in the last winter. Cashew nut and pistachio is selling for Rs 1,400 per kg and fig for Rs 1000 per kg, all showing 25-30 per cent increase over their last year’s prices.

Prices of local dates of different qualities range between Rs200 and Rs 300 per kg where Iranian dates are available at Rs 300 per kg. Whereas prices of peanuts and dried mulberry range between Rs 260 and Rs300 per kg the price of pine-nut (Chilgoza) for Rs2400 per kg.

Dry fruit exporters hope to earn enough foreign exchange through the export of pine nuts kernel to the US and Europe whereas strong demand for pine nuts (whole) is coming from China. “Currently, we have got orders for pine nuts kernel at $30 per kg.

Since our own buying rate is reasonably lower than this (due to a better crop) we hope to make some money,” said Muhammad Anis, a leading dry fruit exporter based in Karachi.

He reckoned that about 90 per cent of the total production of dry dates in the country is being exported to India where its demand is up. The export price varies between Rs35 and Rs175 per kg depending upon the variety and quality of the dates.

Exporters say the demand for sweet and bitter seeds of apricots is also strong in Turkey and India where the former is used in confectionary and sweet dishes and the latter in herbal and homeopathic medicines.

According to exporters, lately Turkey has also emerged as a big buyer of walnut meat where it is used not only in local market but also for making value-added products like walnut-cakes and chocolates for exports to the European countries. Fresh Pakistani dates are being exported in large quantities to a number of countries including India and China at rates ranging between $700 and $1600 per tonne depending upon the quality. The main buyers of almonds and raisins are Middle Eastern countries like Saudi Arabia and the UAE.

Traders at Jodia Bazar and Empress Market say the dynamics of dry fruit trading has changed much in recent years with speedy growth in local demand.

“Opening up of new bakeries and sweet shops and a rising trend of using dry fruits in cakes, buns and rusk along with growth in local sales and exports of sweets and confectionary items have pushed up local demand,” says a leading dry fruit trader Muhammad Nasim.

“Hundreds of kilograms of fresh dates, almonds, raisins, pistachio and other dry fruits are sold within the Karachi market every day for consumption in bakeries and sweet shops. Bhashani, Dhaka Sweets, Nirala, Qasr-e-Shireen and the likes enter into monthly contracts for purchase of dry fruits. Some of them also export sweets to Middle East. Besides, biscuits and toffees and chocolate makers are also increasingly using dry fruits in their products.”

In the absence of any credible data, it is difficult to estimate daily trading turnover of dry fruits. But information collected from traders at Jodia Bazar and Empress Market suggests that a few tonnes of local fresh dates change hands daily in the local market and several containers of the fruit are also exported on weekly basis. Consumption of dry dates in the local market remains limited to a few bags of 40kg daily chiefly for consumption at wedding ceremonies but its exports go up to a few containers each month. All other dry fruits are sold in bags of 40kg and not in tonnes and even the exporters sell them either in 40kg bags or smaller bags as per the requirement of the buyers.

Whereas fresh dates, dry dates, peanuts, pine nuts, figs and almonds are produced within the country with exportable surplus of varying quantity, exports of raisins depend upon informal inflows of the dry fruit from Afghanistan because local production in the Northern areas is not that large. Besides, traders import a big quantity of American almonds which are bigger and sweeter than the local variety.

Another important feature of dry fruits market is that except for imported varieties which are supplied to the rest of the country from Karachi, all other dry fruits including those that come from Afghanistan sell at slightly lower prices in the north of the country and their prices go up as they reach Karachi after covering long distances. And within Karachi, whereas Jodia Bazar and Empress Market serve as main wholesale markets, half a dozen other semi-wholesale markets are also in operation including those located on Burns Road, Federal B. Area and Liaquatabad.

Exporters say 15-20 big players are involved in exports of dry fruits whereas the number of importers is a bit higher. Exports of dry fruits are shown in the external trade data under the head of fruits and vegetables. That is perhaps why dry fruit exporters don’t have a representative body of their own and are led by the Pakistan Fruit and Vegetable Exporters Association. —Mohiuddin Aazim