The export prospects of citrus fruits have improved as production is up and exporters anticipate sending larger shipments to a widening foreign market.
Exporters expect kinnow alone to fetch $200m this season, up from about $175m last year, as they see a real boost in orders from Indonesia.
During a week-long visit to Indonesian cities last month, a 15-member delegation of the Sargodha Chamber of Commerce and Industry found that the demand for kinnow is rising there.
Kinnow exports to Indonesia surged last year after a mutual recognition agreement on sanitary.
And phyto sanitary measures for agricultural products became effective.
Besides this, the waiver of customs duty on purchase of Pakistani kinnow under the preferential trade agreement should continue to boost exports to Indonesia.
Meanwhile, the recent Russian move to ban imports of fruits and vegetables from the US and the EU is also fuelling optimism among kinnow exporters, who believe that the ban would eventually benefit fruit and vegetable exporters of Pakistan and other Asian nations.
Last year, Russia had lifted the ban it had imposed earlier on Pakistani citrus fruits, but only after the export season had already peaked. Exporters anticipate a real rise this season.
Exporters expect larger orders of citrus fruits from Indonesia, Malaysia, UAE, Saudi Arabia and other GCC nations because of improved processing, grading and packaging.
They also expect larger orders from Malaysia, UAE, Saudi Arabia and other GCC nations, in addition to some European countries, because of improved processing, grading and packaging of citrus fruits.
Besides, after the successful launching of mango farm tracking earlier this year, Pakistan is now replicating this initiative with citrus fruits. Relevant officials began surveying kinnow farms in Punjab from early October.
The survey is aimed at identifying the farms eligible for certification and standardisation for EU markets.
Moreover, a higher projected production of 2.1-2.2m tonnes, up slightly from last year, is sure to enhance export volumes, say officials of the Pakistan Horticulture Development and Export Company.
Final official figures for last season’s exports are not available, but exporters claim they surpassed the target of 300,000 tonnes. This season’s target remains the same, and leading exporters claim that actual shipments will reach 400,000 tonnes.
Despite this optimism, the production of citrus fruits is facing some structural problems that, if unresolved, would make sustainable export growth difficult.
Average production rose to 2.1m tonnes during 2006-2010, up from 1.83m tonnes during 2001-2005, mainly due to an expansion in the area under cultivation. But for the past three years, output has remained at just around 2m tonnes.
This imbalance may occur as a result of nutrient deficiency in orchard soils, water shortage, and insect pest attack on the citrus trees”.
So, the key question is, why hasn’t there been an increase in production after 2010?
One explanation is that the area under cultivation, which averaged 197,000 hectares between 2006 and 2010, has remained almost unchanged since then. This means the per-hectare yield of citrus fruits isn’t rising. But why?
A 2013 study conducted jointly by researchers of the Nuclear Institute for Agriculture and Biology, Faisalabad, and the University of Agriculture, Faisalabad, explains: “Fruit-dropping is one of the main reasons of low citrus fruit yield in Pakistan, which is thought to be mainly due to hormonal imbalance in the plants.
If these issues are addressed through a set of measures, including foliar sprays on key plant nutrients, the average yield of citrus fruits can be doubled within five years from the current 10.7 tonnes per hectare, say agronomists and growers.
In Brazil — the top producer of citrus fruits — the per-hectare yield has been running steadily at 21-24 tonnes since 1999, experts say, stressing that doubling Pakistan’s current yield will be no big deal.
But growers complain that despite declaring horticulture an industry, policymakers have paid little attention to its development. They say that unlike other industries and major sub-sectors of agriculture, horticulturists have very little access to bank financing.
And the federal and provincial governments also don’t offer public-private partnership for investment in processing, grading and packaging.
They say the establishment of mango orchard clusters in Multan is encouraging for fruit exporters, but this model needs to be replicated for citrus orchards as well.
Last year, citrus fruits were exported at an average price of less than $200 per tonne.
Trade Development Authority of Pakistan officials say this price is far lower than the average export price of other citrus fruits produced by countries like Egypt, Morocco and Spain. Egyptian oranges, for example, fetch $400 per tonne.
Some officials say a large number of farmers grow low quality citrus fruits that are then routinely shipped out without proper grading, polishing and packaging, and fetch low per-unit prices.