Balochistan is endowed with a unique environment for the production of a great variety of quality fruits. The province is known as the fruit-basket of the country producing 90% of grapes, cherry and almonds, 60% of peach, pomegranate, apricot, 34% of apple and 70% of date.
The province, with diverse climates ranging from temperate to subtropical and tropical, produces various fruit crops. While apple, apricot, cherry and peach are high delta fruits, grape, olive, pistachio and pomegranate belong to the low delta of the province. While mango is a tropical fruit, date palm is a subtropical one. The province produces varieties of date. According to one estimate, Mekran produces about 0.5 million tonnes of dates annually. Some of the famous date varieties grown in Turbat and Panjgur include Begum Jangi, Kaharaba, Mozawati, Berni, Helini and Sabzo.
The province produced over 6,625 tonnes of mango during fiscal year 2003-04 contributing 0.6% to the total national production. Fruit crops are grown over an area of 149,726 hectares in the province with a yield of about 0.9 million tons annually. Fruit production in highland Balochistan, which contains south-western region, depends on the availability of groundwater. The region is famous for production of commercial varieties of grape such as Kishmishi and Sundarkhani. Raza Tareen, the horticulturist in Agriculture Research Institute (ARI) in Quetta, said: "Zoning is essential for growing different fruit crops in Balochistan, as each agro-ecological zone presents specific agro-climatic condition for production of different kinds of fruit".
Grape, the low delta crop, is grown in bulk in Quetta, Pishin, Kalat, Zhob, Loralai and Mastung districts. It may be grown in all types of climates and soils, but the experts believe that the province should be divided into zones for quality fruit production. For instance, for high delta fruits of apricots and plums, an "apricot zone" or `plum zone' should be set up in upland Balochistan. Another expert Muhammad Naseem in ARI said Balochistan's tremendous yield potential of high quality fruits can efficiently be tapped by establishing `crop specific zone' and "fruit processing units" in the province. The fruit farmers needed to be properly educated about the techniques of growing fruit crops, and pay attention toward zoning for growth of different fruit crops.
Efficient crop management could increase the profit of local farmers by reducing the production cost. The experts in ARI are working on the production of cultivars of different fruits in Balochistan. As a result of agriculture research, cultivars of different fruits have been introduced. For instance, local cultivars of grapes, which have been introduced so far, include Kishmishi, Sundarkhani, Haita, Hussani, Askari, Khal Chini and Khalili.
The cultivars of apple include the early-season cultivars, mid-season cultivars and late-season cultivars. So far 52 varieties of apples, 22 of grapes, 14 of peaches, 15 of cherry, 30 of plums, 32 of apricots, 11 of olive, five of almond and four varieties each of pistachios and pomegranates have been introduced. Quetta Planning in the Directorate General of Agriculture Research Deputy Director Muhammad Shakeel said research studies had also been conducted on tropical fruit production in the province. New techniques for production of tropical fruits, and cost-effective practices and packages for improvement in production, and new high-yielding and pest-resistant varieties of tropical fruits had also been introduced.
In Lasbella district, a project for improving production of tropical fruits is under way under PSDP schemes. The ARI is also working on insect pest control in Balochistan and it had established the codling moth control on apple and reduced number of sprays from eight to two times. Local farmers face a plethora of problems from planting, harvesting to marketing of their fruit crops. Shortage of irrigation water, non-availability of groundwater in highland, lack of marketing infrastructure and facilities like farm-to-market roads and sale centres, dearth of skilled labour and lack of technical knowledge and expertise, are the main problems that prevented long-term investment in fruit production.
Moreover, the absence of cold storages and air-conditioned transportation facilities for fruits like grapes also increase the risks of damage to fruits. Soil test also needs to be conducted on regular basis at the time of planting a fruit crop. For instance, planting season for apple crop in Northern Balochistan commences from February 15 to March 15. The ARI experts should visit the cropping areas during the season and conduct soil tests and educate the local farmers about the deficient element of the soil and recommend them the required fertilisers and its quantity. There is also a need to ensure supply of fertilisers to the fruit growers at subsidised rates."What is direly needed is to enable the farmers to sell their produce directly eliminating the role of middlemen in the marketing channel" a local farmer said. Some farmers suggested that like wheat crop, the government should fix support price for fruit crops setting a procurement target for the ex-harvest year and the government agencies should directly purchase the produce from the farmers at the fixed price.
They suggested that the government should provide relief to the local growers of fruit crops by providing them essential infrastructure facilities like farm to market road, cold-storage houses, and regular and sustainable supply of electricity in order to enhance production and export of quality fruits. There is a need to overcome the scarcity of water through construction of check/delay action dams in suitable areas of the province. The micro-irrigation systems need to be introduced widely to cope with problem of water shortage in fruit growing areas of the province.Steps should be taken to check adulteration of pesticides, as the adulterated pesticides adversely affect the quality of fruits.
The ARI should organise regular visits to the orchards and provide guidelines to local farmers on the problems, which arise during various stages of production. The experts should also introduce high yielding, and drought and disease resistance varieties of fruits.Balochistan has tremendous potential for development of horticulture, particularly the fruit farms. All-out efforts are needed to be directed for bringing about a shift from traditional to a technology-based farming system. The government may extend credit to small farmers for horticulture development. The lack of finance does not enable the cash-starved small farmers to harvest and market their fruit crop. The small farmers' access to loan facility should be ensured.