NationalVOLUME 17 ISSUE # 9

Help kinnow in the face of challenges

Like the past, the kinnow season has already started in the country from December 1, but all people related to the crop, especially exporters, are in a state of uncertainty this year. They are really worried about the visible decrease in the produce due to climate change and various other issues, and a massive increase in freight charges, which would adversely affect the export of the citrus fruit.

According to the official data, the annual production of the citrus fruit hovers around 2.4 million to 2.5 million tonne, but this year the production may remain restricted to just 1.7 million tonne. “It is almost 30% less production than the previous year,” Khair Muhammad Tiwana, vice president, Kinnow Growers Association, Sargodha, says. Besides other reasons, the old orchards of kinnow are unable to resist the effects of climate change, he tells Cutting Edge by telephone. He admits that most of the kinnow orchards have reached their natural age and local growers do not have adequate knowledge of cultivating new varieties of kinnow and the tendency is likely to squeeze its yield and export in future. He suggests the Punjab government focus on developing new varieties of citrus which should have the quality to better resist the impact of climate change.

Nadeem Akhtar Abbasi, an official at the Department of Horticulture, Pir Mehr Ali Shah Arid Agriculture University, Rawalpindi, says that citrus, being a perennial crop, is more vulnerable to changing environmental conditions. He tells Cutting Edge that erratic weather behaviour in Pakistan has deteriorated the physical and biochemical quality parameters of the citrus fruit. He says a study was conducted recently in three main citrus groves of the Punjab province to assess the impact of climate change on the citrus industry of the country. The study found out that climate change has triggered pests’ infestation, disease incidence and water overuse, ultimately increasing input costs. More heat and drought stress and fog were observed in Vehari and Toba Tek Singh and yield reduction and low quality were recorded in the districts than Sargodha, he added. The official says that climate change has directly affected the citrus industry and the scientific approach is required to address the challenges.

However, Citrus Research Institute (CRI) Director Muhammad Nawaz Khan Mekan does not agree that citrus growers are totally unaware of the impact of climate change on their orchards. He tells Cutting Edge that the institute is properly guiding the farmer community across Punjab about horticulture, soil preparation, prevention of diseases and methods for better yields, etc. He says that agricultural scientists in Punjab have developed 10 varieties of citrus so far and got them registered. The director says citrus fruit is cultivated on 500,000 acres of land in Punjab, out of which 250,000 acres belong to Sargodha and adjacent areas.

Khair Muhammad Tiwana endorses the CRI director’s assertion, saying Sargodha district has a distinction in the production of kinnow, known for its great taste and delicacy. According to an estimate, Sargodha produces 96 per cent of kinnow produced in the country and its orchards sprawl over hundreds of thousands of acres of land. The economy of Sargodha and Bhalwal heavily depends on kinnow and there are around 250 kinnow processing centres in the region that employ over 250,000 people, Tiwana says.

He says kinnow is also cultivated in Pothohar and South Punjab districts of Bhakkar, Layyah, Dera Ghazi Khan and Mankera. In Sindh province, it is cultivated in Sukkur, Nawabshah and Khairpur districts, and in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province, in Peshawar, Mardan, Swat, Hazara, Nowshera and Swabi districts. In Balochistan, it is cultivated in Sibi, Makran and Kech areas.

Kinnow tops the list of fruits which are exported to other countries. All Pakistan Fruit and Vegetable Exporters, Importers and Merchants Association (PFVA) patron-in-chief Waheed Ahmed says Pakistan produces 2.5m tonnes of kinnow every year and exports it to around 50 countries, including Russia, Ukraine, Indonesia, Sri Lanka, The Philippines, The United Arab Emirates, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. However, he fears that the export of the fruit is likely to be limited only to 300,000 tonnes this year with an anticipated decrease of 35 per cent in its production compared to the previous year and a significant increase in sea freight costs.

He says that due to these reasons, the export of kinnow to the markets of Russia, Canada, Ukraine, Indonesia, and The Philippines is likely to decrease significantly this year, as Pakistan exports 50pc of its total export volume of kinnow to these countries. He says that preparations for the fruit’s export have not yet started even though the season has commenced from Dec 1. Last year, the export of kinnow was 450,000 tonne against the target of 350,000 tonne, when the sea freight charges to Russia, an important international market, were $2,500-3,000 per container. However, this year the cost has gone up to $7,000 per container. Similarly, the sea freight charges to The Philippines and Indonesia, which were $2,000 per container last year, have now increased to $4,000-5,000 per container, Waheed Ahmed tells Cutting Edge.

The PFVA patron-in-chief says land routes are a better alternative to export kinnow via Iran and the Central Asian Republics, but the government has failed to take measures to use the option. He says the cost of transportation via land routes is the same as the cost of sea freight despite the TIR (Transports Internationaux Routiers, International Road Transport) convention, under which Pakistan is availing the privilege to transport trade goods via land routes. He says Pakistani kinnow would sell in the Russian market due to being low-cost as compared to the fruit from Morocco and Turkey. The price of a 10kg carton used to be $5-6 less than the cost of 10kgs of the same fruit from the two countries. However, now due to a sharp increase in the charges of sea freight, the rate would almost be equivalent to the prices of the fruit from other countries, making it very difficult to remain competitive.

Waheed Ahmed says Iran is a promising international market for Pakistani kinnow, but it has been closed for the last 10 years due to non-issuance of import permits by Iranian officials. Last year, Iran issued import permits for a limited period of time, but this year nothing has been done by the government so far, he regrets. He urges the government to negotiate with Iran for the export of at least 80,000 tonnes of Pakistani kinnow for neutralising the damage of other international markets. This is the only option at hand to save the kinnow export business this year, he believes.