The future of farming has to appear other from farming as of late. Tremendously other. Otherwise, we will be able to chance dropping much more…
ISLAMABAD: Pakistan grows citrus fruit over an area of 206,569 hectares in all the four provinces with total production of around 2.5 million tons as per 2015-16 statistics. Punjab produces over 98% of the fruit mainly in Sargodha district because of its favourable growing conditions and adequate canal and sub-soil water. Kinnow constitutes 80% of the citrus fruit and is a major export commodity.
Application of modern techniques and traditional practices at all stages of growth and during the post-harvest phase can not only add value to the fruit which attracts premium prices but can also increase exports which fetch foreign exchange.
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Citrus Research Institute Sargodha is responsible for undertaking research and development work on kinnow and other citrus varieties, besides the Pakistan Agricultural Research Council (Parc).
Like other crops, the citrus is also attacked by a variety of insects, pests and diseases. Some of these insects, pests and diseases not only affect quality and quantity of the produce, but also hurt the plant life. That is why Pakistani citrus orchards have a lower life cycle as compared to other citrus growing countries.
Major damage to the citrus fruit in Pakistan is caused by canker, melanose and scab. Other insects and diseases include leaf miner, peel miner, psylla, lemon butterfly, black fly, white fly, fruit fly, mealy bug, etc.
Although all these pre-harvest diseases can easily be controlled through sustainable integrated pest management in fields and post-harvest, no serious and immediate efforts have so far been made by the agriculture departments, growers and other stakeholders like the academia, scientists, donor agencies and input suppliers.
Pakistan is the 12th largest producer of kinnow in the world but the fruit is losing its vigour in the country because of diseases, low yield, poor quality and lack of international compatibility with the much liked seedless kinnow. Pakistan may lose even the existing export markets if challenges are not adequately and timely addressed.
The most alarming issues faced by the growers and exporters are the loss of vigour and quality of the existing kinnow germplasm. The Mandarin variety’s germplasm was introduced in Pakistan in 1950, which has now lost its vigour and quality not only in terms of production, but also in relation to immunity from diseases.
There is no dedicated citrus breeding centre in the main growing area of Sargodha and the nursery stock obtained from existing mother trees is weak, infested with diseases and is of inferior quality. Therefore, the orchards established with the help of such saplings are not good for getting higher yields and producing quality kinnow.
Owing to this, the available quantity for exports will decrease, which may lead to the loss of overseas markets and foreign exchange earnings. Three kinnow varieties namely Kinnow LS (less seed), Pumpkin and Mandarin are grown the world over, particularly in Egypt, Turkey, Spain, China and the US, but Pakistan has a very old and weak germplasm of kinnow and it needs to develop hybrid varieties.
In addition to this, Pakistani kinnow is heavily infested with canker and scab diseases, which greatly affect its quality and production. If adequate remedial measures are not taken, the kinnow production may vanish in a couple of decades.
Water shortage is another major challenge as canal water is getting scarce and underground water is mostly salty. Citrus requires water in February, May, June, November and December. From November through February, canal water is not available due to their closure for annual cleaning. In May and June, most of the available water goes to the paddy crop.
Increasing cost of inputs including the labour, coupled with a short harvest period, also affects the production and trade. The quality of exportable harvest is affected by unskilled labour, improper post-harvest handling, inadequate cold chains, poor transportation facilities and weak capacity to comply with phytosanitary and quarantine regulations.
Citrus growers in Sargodha have reported a poor outreach programme of the Agricultural Extension Department. Lack of awareness among the growers of selecting and planting quality saplings, lack of proper traditional practices like pruning, field operation, timely watering, disease control and other operations may lead to the loss of yield as well as quality output.
For harvest and post-harvest operations, trained labour is essential as their absence increases chances of disease attacks on the damaged fruit even before packaging and transportation. Mechanical pressure during harvest, transportation and improper handling of the fruit during plucking, transportation and packaging also lead to the loss of quality.
The Department of Plant Protection (DPP) is mandated to meet the quarantine and phytosanitary requirements under the International Plant Protection Convention and the World Trade Organisation. The DPP has established a kinnow export facilitation office at Bhalwal and this has greatly helped in swift inspection and issuance of export permits at the doorsteps of exporters.
The institutional issues related to the shortage of professional staff, capacity building of professionals and logistics should be adequately addressed to further improve the DPP’s efficiency.
Pakistan enjoys the best soil and ecological conditions for kinnow and citrus production. The total production of 2.5 million tons without any major outside support speaks volumes about the existing potential.
Kinnow has emerged as an important export commodity as Pakistan exported a record 370,000 tons amounting to $222 million in 2017 compared to 325,000 tons in 2016. Kinnow exports are increasing every year and they can be further raised by supporting the growers through provision of improved germplasm and seedless varieties, improved orchard management, post-harvest quality control and enhanced phytosanitary and quarantine inspection and facilitation.
There is a need to quickly initiate the development of improved varieties and for the purpose, Parc as well as the Citrus Research Institute Sargodha and provincial agriculture departments should join hands.
The introduction of seedless varieties from abroad could also enable increased and sustainable production of kinnow for enhanced trade. Agriculture departments are required to engage the farmers and develop a comprehensive strategy for addressing the priority issues in the short term and follow a long-term strategy for citrus development on a sustainable basis aimed at increasing exports. There is a need to identify the growers, prepare a database and develop a platform involving the growers, exporters and traders for listening to grievances of the growers and exporters.
Awareness campaigns should be kicked off about field practices, harvest and post-harvest handling, transportation and processing through an integrated and coordinated programme involving all the stakeholders.
By DR MUHAMMAD KHURSHID
The writer is a PhD in natural resource management and is a civil servant