SUKKUR: With approximately 75,000 acres of date palm orchards and more than 200 varieties, Khairpur is a mainstay of date cultivation in Sindh. Farmers here mull day and night trying to figure out ways to improve the quality of their fruit, protect their produce and increase business.
For the same reason, the who’s who of the date farming business gathered in Khairpur on Monday for the date palm seminar – for the fourth year running. Experts called on the growers to adopt modern techniques not only to save date palm trees from different diseases, but to increase the quality and quantity of their fruit.
The conference was organised by the Directorate Agriculture Extension Sukkur Division in collaboration with USAID, Sindh Rural Support Organisation and Agribusiness Support Programme.
The Sindh chief minister was to be the chief guest at the event, but his commitments in Karachi didn’t allow him the time. So his daughter, Nafeesa Shah, made up for his absence.
Riaz Ahmed Dayo, the director of the Sukkur agriculture extension, was quite pleased about the four-year run of the annual date seminar. “The event will prove to be a bridge between scientists and industrialists, and exporters and growers to exploit the true potential of this important fruit,” he said in his welcome address.
The Khairpur district with alluvial soil and warm climate is ideal for date palm. “It is encouraging to note that palm cultivation is attracting growers,” Dayo said.
Aseel is the most popular date variety, which is exported in large quantities from Khairpur, bringing in valuable foreign exchange.
Introducing new date varieties and minimisation of waste through modern processing technologies like hygienic dehydration plants, deep processing and packaging house, while discouraging traditional and unhygienic processing of dates warrant hope for significant growth in production, Dayo added.
In her address, Nafeesa Shah urged the district administration to invite foreign experts from all over the world next year to make the festival an international event. The public sector was asked to come forward and establish cold storage facilities so that growers can store their yield and earn more profit.
Ninety per cent of dried dates (choara) are exported to India. But Sadaruddin Phulpoto, the president of the Sindh Date Growers Association, believes that the growers were not getting the right price for their fruit due to the “monopoly”.
This year, the dates were harvested after mid-Ramazan and failed to get proper rates in the market, as the government had already imported the fruit from Middle East. The government should establish cold storage facilities, so that growers can store the yield and get a good price next year, Phulpoto said.
Not all is well in the district, however, as the “sudden decline” disease is posing a serious threat to the orchards. The virus dries up the date palm tree within two to three months. The disease has destroyed date palm trees in the Ahmedpur, Pir Jo Goth and Babarloi areas.
Published in The Express Tribune, September 4th, 2012.