The US Agency for International Development (USAID) through its Firms project is launching a pilot programme to assist small and medium enterprises (SME) in date farming and processing in Khairpur and Sukkur. These are Pakistan’s major date-producing districts, contributing to around 40% to 45% of country’s total date production.
Pakistan, the fifth largest producer of dates in the world and having significant export prospects, is not capitalising on its potential and exports just over 18% of its total production. Lack of awareness on best farming practices, improper fruit handling techniques, absence of developed processing facilities are major constraints inhibiting profitable date production.
USAID’s pilot programme aims to increase economic value of dates by mitigating these constraints and removing bottlenecks. Its design is geared to replicable, scalable, sustainable results, benefitting 40 to 45 SMEs in date farming at Khairpur and Sukkur through provision of food-grade plastic crates, boom sprayers, date palm dryers. The agency is providing three SMEs date processors with equipment to detect physical contamination, food grade processing tables, small cold storage rooms, assistance for hazard analysis and critical control points and International Organisation for Standardisation certification to address phytosanitary, food safety, and quality requirements of the international market.
Firms project is finalising the cost-share agreements with the three date processing SMEs to include workforce training, infrastructure, technical assistance for quality certifications, support for international market linkages which is expected to result in at least 15% increase in sales and 10% increase in production for supported SMEs with up to 15% increase in jobs.
USAID plans to provide cost-share assistance to establish a commercial cold storage facility which will be first facility in the district dedicated to dates. Based on programme’s design, partner SMEs project 10% increase in production, generating more than $200,000 in incremental income, likely resulting in hundreds of new jobs.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 26th, 2012.