ISLAMABAD  - Pakistan has become the third largest dates exporter in the world and with proper attention and appropriate interventions this sector can flourish manifold.

The date sector offers substantial opportunities for exports, income and employment generation in addition to economic growth of the country, said an official of Ministry of Commerce and Textile while talking to APP here.

The annual production of dates in Pakistan is estimated at around 535,000 tonnes of which only 86,000 tonnes are exported and the rest are either consumed locally or perish, he said.

Chief Executive Officer Harvest Trading Ahmad Jawad said that Pakistani dates exports could be raised to $ 200 million from the current $ 28 million with proper processing and packaging. Since 1999, per acre yield of dates in Pakistan has not increased much, whereas worldwide production increased by 166 percent, he added. Higlighting the problems, the CEO said that the country lacked storage facilities. Thus due to these problems the country had to import dates during the month of Ramadan. Importers of dates such as Germany, Denmark, India, Nepal, USA, UK, Afghanistan and Canada are re-exporting Pakistani dates after quality enhancement and preparation of by-products, at a price that is four to six times higher than their import price,” said Jawad.

“Of the 300 varieties of dates produced in Pakistan, Begam Jangi of Balochistan, Aseel of Sindh and Dhakki of Dera Ismail Khan are the varieties which are sought after the world over due to their exotic taste,” said Jawad. He further said that dates could fetch many more millions of dollars if focus was given to value addition such as the use of dates in preparing date sweets, jams, chocolates and other products. Even the damaged crop is used for medical purposes and date oil is fit for use in cosmetics.

He maintained that the usage of dates increases during the winter season thus its price and demand surges. Another report by the USAID revealed that 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.

Ghulam Farid, a date farm owner stated that usually the harvest season of dates starts in July in upper Sindh, during the monsoon season, they remain safe due to lack of rain in these areas during harvesting.