As Ramazan draws near, preparations are in full swing to meet the demand for dates. What with the increase in date prices during the holy month - and the fact that Pakistan is the world’s fifth largest producer of dates - you would think that date cultivation is a profitable avenue. Evidently, that does not hold true for everyone.
Kot Mithan native Abdul Qadir has been working as a labourer on date farms since he was a child. However, the hard labour earns him a meagre income. “I earn just Rs20,000 annually which is not compensation enough for a profession that has taken away my youth.” Qadir has barely been able to make any savings either.
Not just labourers like Abdul Qadir, but farmers who have invested large sums of money in date farming are also unsatisfied with the earnings. Mazhar Abbas Shah, owner of date palm fields in Khairpur, says “the current market does not offer profitable rates. No matter how many dates we sell in the scorching heat, we do not get the required rates.”
Despite the fact that only 10% of dates produced in Pakistan are exported, exporters receive a much larger chunk of the profits as compared to farmers. Muhammad Asif, a local trader, blames the ‘mafia’, his term for exporters. “The mafia store and package the dates here [in Pakistan] and then export them to the UAE, India, America, China and Afghanistan.” Traders do not have the kind of expertise to successfully treat and package their dates. According to a report filed by Harvest Tradings Pakistan, 50 % of dates produced annually are wasted due to a lack of proper processing technology.
Whoever is to blame, and whoever receives what share, the average buyer still has to face a severe price hike during Ramazan, rising from Rs50 to Rs100 per kilogramme normally to Rs250 to Rs300 per kilogramme during Ramazan.
The new prices have forced some people to think twice before buying. “I planned to buy dates for Ramazan but after checking out the prices, I just don’t think it’s within my financial reach”’
Published in The Express Tribune, July 27th, 2011.