Pakistan and India hold a significant position in international Dates market, former as a second largest exporter and later being the largest importer of dates. However, trade between India and Pakistan has been fundamentally influenced by factors that are not purely economic such as war, political relations etc. Pakistan exports 80,700 tons of Dates to India during the year 2007. On the other hand, India is the largest importer with global market share of about 38%. To decrease the dependence on other countries, India is trying to increase area and production of date palm in some of its regions. As a major exporter of Dates to India, this is of particular interest for Pakistan. Therefore an analysis of development efforts in date palm industry by India is important for Pakistan in order to plan for the future Dates trade with India and other countries.
In India, climate of Gujarat, Rajasthan and some areas of Punjab is suitable for the production of date palm. However, the commercial cultivation of date palm occurs mainly in the western border of India and the coastal belt of Kutch district of Gujarat contributes about ninety percent to the total date production in India. More than 1.5 million date palm trees are present in Kutch, spread widely from Anjar to Mandvi including Mundra and other areas. This seed propagated population represents a huge biodiversity of date palm with fruits of varying qualities. Government initiatives to promote date palm culture especially in Gujarat and Rajasthan states leads to significant increase in area and production of date palm during the last 15 years. In Kutch, for example, the area under cultivation increases from 8,973 ha to 16,000 ha during last ten years. Date Palm Research Centres at Mundra in Kutch, Bikaner and Jodhpur in Rajasthan, Hissar in Haryana and Abohar in Punjab are working for the promotion of date palm in their respective regions. Government of India implements Integrated Development of Date Palm with an outlay of Rs. 50.00 million during the year 2001 and provides 25% assistance for 100 hectares for date palm growers of Gujarat under National Horticulture Mission plan in 2005-06.
At Jaisalmer and Bikaner Districts, a model farm of date palm in 130 hactres has been developed
The Anand Agriculture University (AAU) in Gujarat has standardized date palm micro-propagation on commercial scale. Moreover, a tissue culture laboratory is also developed at Jodhpur, Rajasthan. The tissue culture Date varieties are Barhee, Khunezi, Medjool, Hallawi, Khadrawy, Zahidi and Deglet Noor. A present research in India shows that only Barhee and Hallawi varieties seems to be successful in Rajasthan conditions with an annual yield of about 66 kg and 60 kg per palm respectively. Despite the efforts made by Indian Government, there is still vast area to be focused for the promotion of date palm especially provision of “elite” varieties to growers either through tissue culture or through screening of local cultivars.
Area and production of date palm in Pakistan and India from 1996 to 2012
Pakistan is among the top five producers of Dates in the world and produces more than 600,000 metric tons of Dates. Pakistan exported 88,451 tones of dried dates and 4,687 tones of fresh dates and earned $36.03 million during the year 2007-08. Panjgur and Turbat in Balochistan, Khairpur and Sukhur in Sindh, Dera Ismail Khan in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Muzafargarh, Dera Ghazi Khan and Jhang in Punjab are leading districts in terms of date palm production. All provinces except Punjab have their own prominent exportable Date varieties. Pakistan has a huge share of 18% in world Date market. India, Bangladesh, USA, Canada, Germany, UK, Denmark and Australia are some important export market for Dates. However, Pakistan receives low prices of its Dates as compared to other export countries like Israel, France and Tunisia because of substandard and lack of value addition.
In addition to trade perspective, the most important is the context of date palm growers especially the small farmers of both countries. At present the growers of Sindh and Dera Ismail Khan in Pakistan receive an amount of about Rs. 23.00 and Rs. 28.57 per kg as against retail price of about 200 Rs per kg for fresh dates while growers in India fetched an amount of about Rs. 10 per kg from the year 1999 to 2002 and Rs. 20.00 in 2011-12. At harvest season, growers of Pakistan usually use the traditional method of sun drying of dates by placing dates on straw mats in open grounds. This causes contamination and defective texture of the fruit which reduce its trade value.
Pakistan has the potential to provide good quality Dates to India and other countries with different shapes and forms and can compete with other exporting countries. Dried Dates constitute the major volume of Pakistani export. However, export statistics shows that soft Dates fetch higher prices in international market which depicts that there is an opportunity for Pakistan to increase share in global trade of soft Dates. Organic Dates can also be grown easily in Pakistan by following the organic standards. There is a need to focus on post-harvest management and advanced processing in order to produce international standard Dates and Dates by-products.
Written by. Salman Ata, PhD scholar, Institute of Agri. Extension and Rural Development