Assisting date farming, SMEs: USAID launching pilot project

The US Agency for International Development (USAID) through the USAID Firms Project is launching a pilot programme to assist date farming and processing small and medium enterprises (SMEs) from Khairpur and Sukkur, Sindh. Khairpur and Sukkur are Pakistan’s chief date-producing districts, contributing to around 40 to 45 percent of the country’s date production. Despite Pakistan being the fifth largest producer of dates in the world and having significant export prospects, the country is not capitalising on its potential and is exporting just over 18 percent of its total date production.

The lack of awareness about best farming practices, improper fruit handling techniques, and an absence of developed processing facilities are major constraints inhibiting profitable date production in Pakistan. USAID’s pilot programme aims to increase the economic value of Pakistani dates by mitigating these constraints and removing bottlenecks in the sector’s value chain.

The programme’s design is geared towards replicable, scalable, and sustainable results. It will benefit 40 to 45 SMEs in date farming from Khairpur and Sukkur through the provision of equipment such as food-grade plastic crates, boom sprayers, date palm dryers, etc. USAID is also providing the three SME date processors with equipment to detect physical contamination, food grade processing tables, small cold storage rooms, and assistance for HACCP and ISO certification to address the phytosanitary: food safety, and quality requirements of the international market. The project is finalising cost-share agreements with three date processing SMEs to include the following: workforce training, infrastructure, technical assistance for quality certifications, and support for international market linkages.

The project is expected to result in at least a 15 percent increase in sales and a 10 percent increase in production for the supported SMEs with up to a 15 percent increase in jobs. USAID is also planning to provide cost-share assistance to establish a commercial cold storage facility. This cold storage will be the first facility in the Khairpur and Sukkur area which is dedicated to dates. Based on the programme’s design, partner SMEs are projecting a 10 percent increase in production, generating more than USD 200,000 in incremental income, likely resulting in hundreds of new jobs. Moreover, processing workers in thousands will receive training.

“The programme accurately reflects sector and farmer needs, which will enable us to improve the quality of our product and fetch a better price in the market.” said Hafiz Abdul Haleem Memon, a date farm SME owner from Khairpur, Sindh. With appropriate interventions, the date sector offers substantial opportunities for exports, income and employment generation, and economic growth for Pakistan.-PR

Copyright Business Recorder, 2012

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