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Need to upgrade date processing in Sindh

Need to upgrade date processing in Sindh

CONSIDERING the date palm growth potential in Khairpur, the Sindh government in partnership with a private company is setting up a state-of-the-art dehydration plant for sorting, grading and washing of the fruit. The facility includes a cold storage.

The firm has been provided four acres by the Sindh government with a subsidy on interest on debt acquired for the project. The plant, to be set up at an estimated cost of 250m, is targeted to start operations by the next season. While the plant’s operative capacity may vary between 4,000-5,000 tonnes per annum, officials say that it would have great demonstrating effect on date growers.

After harvesting in July-August, dates are dried under the open sky and exposed to all kinds of weather and unhygienic conditions. Almost every second year rains damage the crop. Dates are put in a huge heated cauldron for half an hour under conventional fruit processing mode that turns freshly plucked dates into chuhara. Rest of the crop is sold as fresh dates which are dried on raw mats under the sunlight for around eight days.

“If climatic conditions are favourable, each tree can produce 100-120kg of dates (aseel and karblain variety). That includes 45kg of soft dates if there are no rains. The entire quantity is otherwise processed as chuhara,” says a grower.

But for the initiative to set up a dehydration plant, the date palm sector, by and large, faces the same old problems including lack of modernisation techniques and missing better varieties of dates.

The country’s annual dates production is estimated at around 535,000 tonnes of which only 86,000 tonnes are exported and the rest are either consumed locally or perish.

Dates export could be raised to $200m from the current $28m with proper processing and packaging.

Hardly, a nominal quantity of soft dates is exported. It is dried dates (chuhara) that is marketed in India. Date palm grower, like Ghulam Qasim Jaskani, points out that India has now set up a tissue culture laboratory and soon it would start producing dates and Sindh’s chuhara exports are likely to be hit.

“We hardly produce 10pc of soft dates because orchard owners are always keen to prepare chuhara to avoid losses from rain”, Jaskani adds.

The Sindh varieties of dates fetch a very low price in the export market, says Jaskani. In terms of Pakistani rupee, Jordan’s majool is sold at Rs3,000/kg in Dubai. Sindh’s aseel variety is available there at Rs100/kg. He strongly advocates the import of 15,000 date palm trees annually from other countries for a gradual replacement of assel l variety.

Sindh’s soft dates are sold in the local market and 50pc of dried aseel dates are exported to India.

The provincial agriculture department data show that Sindh has more than one third share (38.3pc) to the country’s overall area under dates and more than half (53.8pc) in terms of its production. Again, it is Khairpur district that produces 85pc of Sindh’s total output.

Close to 300,000 tonnes of dates are produced in Sindh annually and 85pc of it are dried.

Published in Dawn, Business & Finance weekly, February 22nd, 2016

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