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Pakistan: stagnant date production.

During Ramadan the demand of dates is increased abnormally that resulted in extraordinary increase in its prices. The yearly demand of dates is about 10,000 tonnes, but in Ramadan it jumps to 40,000 tonnes in Karachi only. Iran and Iraq are the two major exporting countries of dates, which meet the world demand as well as of Pakistan. Dates are well known for its nutritional and high vitamin contents of A, B and C and also has high mineral contents, carbohydrates, about 65 to 75 percent. Dried dates contain 1.9 percent protein, 70.6 percent carbohydrates, 2.5 percent fat, 13 percent water, 1.2 percent minerals and 10 percent fibre.

To fill the gap of demand and supply Pakistan imports dates from Iran and Iraq. Fresh in large quantity Iraqi dates come via Dubai in Karachi and send to other parts of the country. Iraq's main 36 kinds of dates, caters 80 percent of global requirement while Iran, Pakistan and Japan are also ranked as some of the leading producers of dates.

There is a good demand for Pakistani dates in many countries, including the European Union (EU) and US. Pakistan's total export of dates in the financial year 2006-07 was about $ 36 million. Sukkur, Rohri, Khairpur, Turbat, Mand, Panjgur and Mashka are famous for the high quality of dates.

Pakistan mainly exports fresh dates to Bangladesh, Canada, Denmark, Germany, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, South Africa, Sri Lanka, the US and UK. While dried dates are exported to Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Canada, Denmark, Germany, India and Japan. The item is shipped by sea and annual export of fresh dates is 12,000 tonnes and that of dried dates is about 255,000 tonnes.

Pakistan is among the top four or five date producers of the world. In 2004-05, Pakistan produced 622,000 tonnes of dates on an area of 81,700 hectares. In the next year production decreased to 496,600 tonnes but area increased to 82,000 hectares. Out of the total, Sindh produced 192,800 tonnes, Balochistan 252,300 tonnes, Punjab 42,600 tonnes and NWFP 8,900 tonnes.

The major production of the Sindh crop is of B-Grade. The prices of different quality of dates range from Rs 80 to 200 per kg in the Karachi market.

Mor cultivation has 300 varieties of dates are produced in Pakistan. Begam Jangi of Balochistan, Aseel of Sindh and Dhakki of Dera Ismail Khan are in great demand in the world but they could not fetch their real value in the export market due to lack of processing facilities.

Due to lack of adequate processing facilities substantial quantity of dates go waste. However, now Pakistan Horticulture Development and Export Board (PHDEB) has intended to set up three date processing plants at a cost of Rs 60 million, at Dera Ismail Khan, Khairpur and Turbat. However, about 54 date processing units are working in Karachi; Lahore, Turbat, Quetta and D.I. Khan. The export of dates almost exclusively takes place from Khairpur where processing facilities are also available.

Dates are mentioned in many places in the Holy Quran. It is a staple food of the Arabs for the period unknown. Persian Gulf is said the origin and is being cultivated since 6000 BC. Dates are an important traditional crop in Iraq, Arabia, and North Africa west to Morocco and are also cultivated in southern California and Arizona in the US. The type of fruit depends on the glucose, fructose and sucrose content in different parts of the world.

Date palm trees provide enough space for intercropping as they do not cover much space. It is possible to grow a mixed fruit orchard, such as date intercropped with citrus. Field crops, such as fodders and vegetables may also be grown together with date palms. The fruit has medicinal value and can be used as an infusion, decoction, syrup, or paste, administered for sore throat, colds, bronchial catarrh, and to relieve fever and a number of other complaints. The seed powder is also used in some traditional medicines. The roots are used to combat against toothache.

Dry or soft dates are used directly or with fillings of almonds, walnuts, candied orange and lemon peel. They are used in Arab breads and cakes and other dessert items. Recent innovations include chocolate-covered dates and products like sparkling date juice, used in some Islamic countries, for special and religious occasions such as Ramadan.

Young date leaves are cooked and eaten as a vegetable, as is the terminal bud or heart. The finely ground seeds are mixed with flour to make bread in times of scarcity. The flowers of the date palm are also eaten. The flower buds are used in salad or ground with dried fish to make a condiment for bread. Date seeds are soaked and ground up for animal feed. Their oil is suitable for use in soap and cosmetics. They can also be processed chemically as a source of oxalic acid.

Date palm wood is used for posts and rafters for huts; it is lighter than coconut but is not very durable. It is also used for construction such as bridges and aqueducts, and parts of dhows. Leftover wood is burnt as fuel.

Persian Gulf Dates can easily be grown from seed, but only 50 percent of seedlings are found female and hence fruit bearing. Most commercial plantations thus use cuttings of heavily cropping cultivars. Plants grown from cuttings give fruit 2 to 3 years earlier than seedling plants. Dates trees are wind pollinated, but in both traditional oasis horticulture and in the modern commercial orchards they are entirely pollinated manually. However, with assistance, one male can polonaise up to 100 females. Since the males are of value only as pollenizers, this allows the growers to use their resources for many more fruit producing female plants. Some growers do not even maintain any male plants as male flowers become available at local markets at pollination time.

Date cultivars are classified as soft, semi-soft and dry or bread dates. Dates ripen in four stages, which are known throughout the world by their Arabic names kimri (unripe), khalal (full-size, crunchy), rutab (ripe, soft), tamr (ripe, sun-dried). Date palms can take four to seven years after planting before they will bear fruit, and produce viable yields for commercial harvest between seven to 10 years.

The analysis of date production in Pakistan shows that since 1996 to 2005 yield per hectare has not increased but decreased from 7,173 kg per hectare to 6,056 kg per hectare production. All over the world yield per hectare has almost been doubled by using modern techniques and machinery. Pakistani growers have not adopted modern techniques, therefore, the total production has also decreased from 534 thousand tonnes to 497 thousand tonnes during 1996-06. While the area under date palm cultivation increased from 74 thousand hectares to 82 thousand hectares, during the same period.

For better production and yield of dates there is a need of extensive research so that quality could match with international requirements of sanitary and phyto-sanitary (SPS) measures; selection of disease-free plants; screening out of bad varieties pre and post-harvest management; processing and behavioural trainings of the staff for their role in the system; integrated supply chain (from farm to fork) for handling, processing, packing, marketing and export of dates and date products.

Other measures include setting up of advanced date processing and preservation units in date growing areas, standardised packaging and presentation, national branding and market diversification and establishment of modern marketing system.

Dates have vast potential of export, but efforts are required to apply post-harvest management and processing techniques to qualifying the international standards. A number of countries have formulated and applied date standards at the national level, which include the US, Canada, Israel, Algeria, Tunisia and Oman, both for locally produced and imported dates. Therefore, Pakistan has to follow such type of systems and standards.
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Publication:Economic Review
Geographic Code:9PAKI
Date:Mar 1, 2009
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