No shift in vegetable cultivation

DESPITE the rich potential for increasing farm income through vegetables, growers remain mainly interested in major crops. Those who regularly cultivate vegetables often end up suffering losses owing to market surpluses or the import of commodities in case of shortages.

Owing to lack of required technologies and good agriculture practices, perishable vegetables’ potential cannot be realised, although there is a large market base in Gulf and Middle East for Sindh’s vegetables.

Collectively, during 2015, summer vegetables — lady finger, Indian squash, bittergourd — were grown on 12,500 ha in 2015 and 12,200ha in 2014 and 41,665ha were brought under cultivation of winter vegetables like turnip, carrot, tomato, cauliflower, up from 40,456ha in 2014.

Growers produce commodities without any knowledge of actual consumption in the domestic market.

The area excludes vegetables like chilli, potato and onion which remain major vegetable commodities. In Sindh, onion production continues almost throughout the year. Production figures, by and large, do not reflect any major shift.

For lack of supply chain and value-addition, growers cannot capitalise on foreign markets. They produce commodities without having knowledge of actual consumption in the domestic market. When they suffer losses due to market surpluses, they reduce their acreage of the crop.

However, under the Sindh Agriculture Growth Project, onion and chilli growers are educated about international market trends which need to be replicated elsewhere too.

Waheed Ahmed, patron in chief of All Pakistan Fruit, Vegetable and Merchants Association pointed out that vegetable exports cannot be increased unless quality commodities free of issues of fruit fly, thrips and maximum residue limit (MRL) are produced as buyers in foreign markets are sensitive about it.

Currently, he said, it is European and the UK’s markets that attach great importance to these factors but in future even markets in Gulf and Middle East regions would also start strictly adhering to it as well. He said, producers and exporters would sit together to address these problems through collaborative approach and to cut cost of production for adding value to the produce..Some of Sindh’s growers have been exporting mangoes to European supermarkets successfully for the last four years. According to growers, vegetables generally don’t face quality issue which could be controlled if exporters and government agencies like Trade Development Authority of Pakistan help them.

A Sindh Agriculture University (SAU) teacher Dr Noorulnisa regretted that the university’s teachers and scholars have produced countless research papers but this research is not reaching the end users — the farmers. Resultantly, she said, farmers don’t get benefit of it and keep working in isolation.

After investing close to Rs70,000-80,000 per acre, an average grower expects to at least earn Rs150,000 from his produce. Often, in case of surpluses, growers find it hard to meet their production cost, as vegetables are a perishable commodity and growers cannot preserve them for want of storage facilities.

Vegetable commission agents have set up their cold storages but they buy commodities at cheaper rates to earn windfall profit from short supplies in the market.

Sindh Abadgar Board Vice President Mahmood Nawaz Shah stated that exporters should outline quality parameters for vegetables so that farmers were encouraged to strictly adhere to it. He said mostly commodities, be it vegetables or fruits end-up being dumped in ethnic (foreign) markets. He agreed that farmers lack a market-driven mindset.

Waheed Ahmed emphasised the need for increasing the shelf-life of vegetables to capture the Gulf and Middle East markets through cheaper sea shipments. The cost of freight on board on air shipments is Rs82/kg against Rs5/kg for sea shipment.

He says the vegetables sector has immense potential for value-addition given the higher demand for pulp, tomato paste, dry and frozen commodities in foreign markets and carrot, lady finger, tomato if produced in sufficient quantities.