Islamabad (Dawn): GILGIT Baltistan’s horticulture presents a huge export potential but the region lacks the wherewithal to switch from subsistence to commercial farming for lack of required support. About 90pc of its population is engaged in agricultural related activities.
Pakistan is the sixth largest apricot producer in the world but its share in the fruit’s export market is negligible. The Dry Fruit Project (AKRSP) has recognised market potentials for GB’s dry apricot, apple and mulberry in the UK. While unprocessed apricots are bought at Rs6-7 a kg, foreign buyers purchase processed apricots at Rs300-500 a kg.
Around 16-57pc fresh fruit is wasted annually in GB due to traditional fruit cultivars. Limitations in fruit-processing include non-availability of sugar and thickening agents which must be transported from Lahore.
Most food processing units are small, lack vital market linkages and can process only a fraction of the total produce simultaneously. Fruit is commonly dried manually, thus risking it to dust and affecting its quality. Plantation is unplanned and scattered so traders/wholesalers do not get desired varieties and volume at the same location.
Stress should be laid on diversification towards higher value crops and provision of easy credit facilities to farmers. The global packaging techniques are un-affordable for the farmers having low production volumes and traders lack real-time access to market information. Diversification is required towards higher value crops and provision of easy credit facilities is essential for farmers’ investment in production. Processing of packaged products, in compliance with international standards, needs to be prioritized.
Unmonitored introduction of global fruit cultivars under multiple horticulture development programmes has put traditional local varieties at risk of gradual disappearance.
Extension Departments must be geared for technology transfer, farmer training, technical advice and supply of crop inputs, and to adopt modern service delivery methods.
Marketing remains at the least-attended stage of value-chain development. The number of registered seed producers to multiply and market seeds is insufficient.
However, ample water, naturally well-drained soils, conditions favourable to organic farming, feasibility of commercial production of cross pollinated seeds, proximity to export markets (China and Central Asia), an embedded pest control climate, a mobilised community favourable to resource-pooling and collective service delivery are competitive advantages of horticulture industry of Swat, Kaghan and Neelum valleys.
There is a need to expand crop varieties in GB to ensure food security and produce export surpluses.
Community-run water management has led to over and under irrigation; water channels display low conveyance ability and demand recurrent maintenance because modern engineering concepts have not been deployed during construction of water channels.
A few policy recommendations to improve the potential of this industry could be: enhancing R&D capacity to produce pre-basic and basic seeds on commercial scale; synchronising extension services of provincial agriculture departments and the private-sector; upgrading the Gilgit Airport to an all-weather airport; prioritising construction and maintenance of Tajikistan Road and developing a centralised e-platform for marketing of locally-produced certified seeds.
Then there is a need for setting up of functional and equipped processing units in all seven districts. It must also be ensured that that the Department of Agriculture and relevant departments are have more of technical staff than non-technical support staff.
The writer is an assistant professor at PMAS Arid Agriculture University, Attock Campus