Fruits, vegetables: UAF joins hands with PFVA to enhance exports

University of Agriculture, Faisalabad (UAF), has joined hands with All Pakistan Fruit & Vegetable Exporters, Importers and Merchants Association (PFVA) to enhance exports of fruits and vegetables and capture hungry international markets, particularly of Pakistani mangoes and kinnow which are in huge demand and greater acceptability abroad. 

With that end in mind both the institutions signed an MoU at Faisalabad on August 5 under which UAF will share it’s research work including analysis and test reports related to fruits and vegetables on regular basis so that the exporters of PFVA remain abreast of Research & Development (R&D) carried by UAF. 

The MoU was signed during a meeting which was attended by Waheed Ahmed and Mohd Ilyas Khan, Chairman and Secretary General respectively of PFVA and 10 researchers having doctorate qualification in various disciplines led by Vice-Chancellor, UAF, Professor Dr Iqrar Ahmad Khan. 

Waheed Ahmed, in line with his clear vision of R & D said this important area despite having great potential remains fully untapped, although the ultimate solution for survival and enhancement of export of fruits and vegetables lies in it. Never in the history of PFVA since it’s inception, anyone thought to get in touch with the most prestigious Agriculture University of Pakistan which could possibly render guidance, support and assistance to numerous problems, exporters of PFVA are confronted with, ie, fruit fly in mango, Tharpis in bitter gauds, blemishing of Kinnow, development of new varieties are a few threatening issues to mention. 

Agenda of the meeting was to: share concern of PFVA about the issues/problems related to export of fruits and vegetables, share vision of PFVA about R& D in this segment of agri-business, seek technical assistance, advice and support of the UAF in establishment of R &D facilities for the PFVA in all major cities of the country, and get familiar with the UAF research work with a view to get help from them in future for the Industry. 

In his opening remarks, the Vice- Chancellor briefed about the university and its highly qualified faculty members. The main campus of UAF, one of the most prestigious universities of the country, is spread over an area of 500 acres with state of the art research labs well equipped with sophisticated technical equipments. It has 45 departments related to various disciplines of agriculture and it’s the only University in the country having 400 PHDs faculty members. It is a research – focused institution having various other campuses in other parts of the country and its annual fund allocation for research alone is Rs two billion which reflects importance of University attaches to research work. 

Chairman -PFVA in reply briefed the VC and his team members on the existing issues and likely great challenges in future and his vision about R& D, a key solution to meet threats and challenges of the industry in future. Salient pints, he briefed are as follows: 

Waheed Ahmed said that he had been trying hard to convince people around him (exporters) that even with the exploration of new international markets, followed by aggressive marketing campaigns of our products, we can not capture and retain the markets unless we develop our existing products to a high standard compatible with other International competitors. Hence product development assumes greater significance. “I am not talking of today but for the years to follow when our export with the existing products would sharply decline unless we adopt a serious approach towards R & D to improve quality and develop new verities,” he said. 

A small country like Chile with limited agriculture resources generates two billion dollars from exports! The thought which often flashes “in my mind is that why our country, much bigger in resources as an agriculture country can not achieve that exports’ revenue if not more? The answer is if we focus our attention on R&D, we can even exceed this figure,” he said. 

He strongly recommended that all supply chain including the UAF stakeholders be gathered at one place under the umbrella of PFVA to develop a “National Export Policy” based on R &D for the industry. PFVA is basically an export -oriented trade body and R&D is not “our cup of tea but we have to take initiative for it to enhance exports which is in fact is growers’ responsibility.” R&D is essentially required for sustainability of both the stakeholders ie growers and exporters .He, therefore sought UAF’s guidance, support and assistance to establish R& D labs in all major cities of Pakistan. 

Chairman PFVA said since R&D was not taken seriously, the result is in front of us that quality/taste of mango has declined significantly and added to that is “fruit fly” which has been playing havoc for last couple of years! We have failed to develop “seedless Kinnow”, a highly demanded product in the international market, particularly Europe. We have only one variety of Kinnow for decades and that too now faces blemish issue, hence quality of Kinnow has a big question mark in the international market. We have managed to retain market because of “low price” but how long we can do that is a million dollar question! Soon our competitors with superior quality of Kinnow would beat us as they are carrying our research to multiply the existing yield to reduce the price. As soon as they achieve the price equal to ours while maintaining the quality, we will certainly be out of the market, he said. 

Our neighbouring countries, China and India with population of over a billion plus are not only feeding them but exporting fruits and vegetables because of R & D to improve yield/acre , develop products and practicing good agriculture practices (GAP) while we have to import many items including fruits and vegetables being an agriculture country ! 

Currently, Pakistan has four major products to export namely – mango and Kinnow (fruits), potato and onion (Vegetables) and with declining quality, lack of variety and lack of R&D, we fear that of these items, we may be left with one or two in future if this situation persists. 

India exports onion for almost eight months while Pakistan could manage for only two months because of limited shelf life. India has successfully improved through R&D the shelf life and yield to remain in international market for a longer period of time. Why can’t we do that to earn huge foreign exchange? Chairman PPFVA questioned. 

Our Kinnow season lasts for three moths only (December – February) which is relatively a small window span to generate substantial export revenue. We desire that this window span be extended for eight months (October through May) through research work so that growers and exporters get mutual benefits. 

He saw R&D as the ultimate solution to our industry (fruits and vegetables) in improvement of the existing export verities while introducing new verities for enhancement of exports. It could bring revolution in the country and create a lot of jobs while strengthening our economy, he said and requested that R&D labs and its related offices which PFVA plans to establish in various cities of Pakistan should be facilitated by UAF. The growers must be educated for awareness and unless they improve, nothing is going to change. Ultimately the growers would suffer if exporters in mere disappointment switch over to some other business. 

Waheed Ahmed said that our national behaviour towards an issue/problem is that unless it assumes a real threat, we generally do not take it seriously. In year 2001 while France started destroying Pakistani mango consignments due to presence of fruit fly, some exporters adopted a smart trick of sending one consignment in various lots so that if one lot is destroyed, the others could manage to make its way into France. Such exporters managed to get benefit of this trick for a while when France started destroying the whole lots if one lot was found to have fruit fly. Disappointed exporters instead of finding a realistic solution to this issue (fruit fly), they employed yet another smart trick of sending mango shipments to France via Belgium. This “smart trick of trade” provided them an unrealistic solution temporarily for a few years till France imposed ban on Pakistani mango. 

The issue initially was “spot on the chest of trade” which started spreading as a cancer in the industry and now we are paying a very heavy price of that ignorance. Had the issue been tackled by R &D in initial stage, we would have not faced the worst consequence of high rate of rejection of Pakistani mango consignments in UK If this issue is not taken seriously, the days are not far when import of Pakistani mango in the entire Europe would be banned! 

Grapes have a great export potential but due to its limited shelf life Pakistani exporters are reluctant to export it. India has an exceptional export volume of grapes having better quality and relatively longer shelf life. Chairman PFVA suggested that UAF constitute a study group comprising of exporters, growers and research experts of the UAF which shall visit India to find out how we could also grow similar variety of grapes in Pakistan. The PFVA would get funds to meet expenses of this study group through TDAP. 

The value- added products (mango pulp, apple concentrate, orange concentrate, tomato paste ) has great potential for export in USD eight billion international market but our share is meager while Indians have a bigger share. We need to do something to enhance our share. 

Professor Dr Iqrar Ahmed Khan assured that UAF is open to private public partnership, joint ventures for any research projects and do not have any hang ups like typical government departments. The R&D is our prime responsibility. Amazing but a fact that we have 30PHDs supporting different business communities, the entire country does not have that sort of model. The University has best quality labs coupled with high standard of academics and professionally competent staff (PHDs) and it ranks higher than any similar University even in India. The UAF covers a broad spectrum of research work in all aspects of agriculture, just you name and we have that! I feel you took very appropriate step to contact us and it’s a right choice at right time. 

UAF, he said is fully aware of menace of “fruit fly” and it’s a big threat for the Industry (fruits and vegetables) and we would certainly put our share to get it resolved. It’s now a bit late to start working as the mango season is about to finish but by next mango season we anticipate to find a solution to this issue. However the PFVA would be required to contribute financially for research and development in this context. 

The UAF would also develop a post-harvest protocol which must be strictly followed by the exporters of PFVA to combat against danger of “fruit fly”. For example if UAF recommends that the exporters shall not pick up mango from untraceable sources like ” fruit mandi”, the PFVA must not do that or if there is no choice (for any reason) than such mangoes must get hot water treatment prior to export. Industry liaison including “communication” is essentially needed between us to share information on various aspects including research work of the UAF. 

The UAF would use it’s expertise of research to enhance widow span of Kinnow season to eight months as suggested by the Chairman -PFVA. This would, in turn render benefit to the growers, exporters and above all, to our country. It would ensure to get the Planning Commission also involved while developing “National Export Policy” with censuses of all stakeholders. 

Copyright Business Recorder, 2013

Muhammad Ramzan Rafique
Muhammad Ramzan Rafique

I am from a small town Chichawatni, Sahiwal, Punjab , Pakistan, studied from University of Agriculture Faisalabad, on my mission to explore world I am in Denmark these days..

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