KARACHI: China might soon be importing cherries from Pakistan. And for Pakistani officials, it'll be six years of efforts finally coming to fruition.
A delegation of Chinese quarantine experts and government officials travelled to Pakistan late last month to check the farm-to-market quality of Pakistani cherry. And, according to Pakistani officials, the visitors returned home satisfied.
The delegation from China's food and quarantine department visited the picturesque Gilgit-Baltistan region – home to cherry orchards in Pakistan.
Currently, China imports bulk of its cherry from South American countries to meet growing demand of the exotic fruit. However, the transportation cost and time is a major predicament.
"China wants to gain market access for cherry from Gilgit-Baltistan – something which it didn't have access earlier," said Ministry of Food Security the Directorate of Plant Protection Department Deputy Director Shahid Abdullah.
Gilgit-Baltistan produces 4,000 metric tons of cherry per season. And since local consumption is limited, farmers export the fruit, Abdullah told The Express Tribune. Cherry is easily perishable fruit – with little shelf life – so Pakistan has been looking for nearby destinations to export cherry to. And China, being a next-door neighbour with an ever-growing appetite for the fruit, is the most viable option.
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"We had been working on it for six years. We would send samples, but they were never accepted. Now, China has finally agreed to take a step forward by sending its officials to Pakistan," Abdullah said.
The Chinese delegation visited cherry orchards to see if there was any disease, or pest in the fruit that could become a concern of quarantine. They toured cherry orchards, and inspected fruit quality and its shelf life. "Their major concern was fruit fly, but they didn't find any," he added.
The Chinese delegation collected samples of leaves and bark of cherry trees for pathologists back home to ensure the fruit is disease-free. "The two countries are expected to complete pest risk analysis (PRA), an international requirement, before exports formally start."
The Chinese delegation would also be preparing a post-visit report in which experts might mention mitigation measures and recommendations to rectify issues, if any. "The visit objective was to identify issues and recommend remedial measures."
The Chinese delegation also visited laboratories. "We have an integrated pest management (IPM) lab that has biological control agents. There are controls in the lab for things found in the plant, like preys in the orchards, refrigerator requirements, etc," Abdullah said.
They also saw pack houses in the Nomal area of G-B, where cherry is processed to increase its shelf life, among other things. "The delegation was also satisfied with the processing."
About transportation, Abdullah said shipping containers carrying cherry would be sent by road via Sost dry port on the China-Pakistan border. "Getting access to the Chinese market for cherry would be a major breakthrough, which could be followed by export of apricot and potatoes, etc."
G-B Chamber of Commerce and Industry (GBCCI) President Imran Ali said the Chinese delegation has assured that they would remove hurdles to cherry imports from Pakistan. "They [Chinese officials] said they would also recommend to their government to import Pakistan's cherry which is purely organic."
He said the Chinese delegation was satisfied with everything – from quality of the fruit to processing and packaging. "They tasted our cherries – and liked it."
Ali said they are trying to improve the fruit quality – and it would be further improved after formal exports starts to China. "We are also trying to increase production by encouraging growers. And I'm sure we would be able to meet the Chinese demand once the supply starts," he added.