The adoption of modern growing techniques and heavy monsoons in orange-growing areas such as Sargodha has boosted the country's Kinnow production this year. But given the spiralling demand for the citrus fruit from Russia, Ukraine and other Central Asian countries, it seems export demand is still outstripping local production, significantly.
"For the upcoming season, there are encouraging reports of good crop of oranges ranging around 2.5 million tonnes and there are strong prospects that the country's exports (of Kinnow) would surpass previous years' 200,000 tonnes figure", said former chairman Fruit Exporters Association of Pakistan, Abdul Wahid.
Middle Eastern countries, Iran, Bangladesh, Eastern Europe, Russia and Ukraine are already importing Kinnow from Pakistan, while Indonesia and Malaysia have recently emerged as strong buyers of the local produce.
With the successful signing of MoU between commerce secretaries of Pakistan and Indonesia for free trade agreement, Kinnow export to Indonesia is expected to rise to 40,000-45,000 tonnes or $23.850 million, in the January-April 2012 period.
China has also shown interest in importing Pakistani Kinnow and it is expected that Pakistan will soon begin shipping out the highly sought-after produce by the time of the next harvest.
Over the period of time, Russia and Ukraine have emerged as leading importers of Pakistani oranges, with aggregate export to both countries now contributing almost half of Pakistan's total export.
The Pakistani variety of this citrus fruit is of a relatively smaller size and has a rich flavour. These characteristics have made it quite popular throughout Central Asia. Yet exports to this region are still, far below their true potential level.
First, the local fruit processing and packaging industry must be encouraged. "Punjab Government must declare the Sargodha factories, where most of the production is done, an industrial zone and develop the poor infrastructure.
"Facilities like continuous supply of gas and electricity at discounted tariffs, better roads and fertiliser subsidy can add favourably to the development of the sector" said Chief Executive Harvest Trading, Ahmed Jawad, while talking to BR Research.
The Central Bank can also provide a boost to fruit exports by facilitating soft loans for infrastructural development as well as export refinance. Banking links between Pakistan and Central Asian countries are not well developed, which constrains the ability of local sellers to approach new buyers in Russia and its adjoining states.
Jawad also stressed the need to educate producers and exporters about new varieties of citrus fruits, cold storage, improved packaging and market outreach. He highlighted that also by cultivating seedless varieties, local sellers can tap those markets in Europe that have so far eluded Pakistani exporters.
"Training seminars and workshops are crucial to raise awareness about Euro Gap and HACCP (hazardous analysis for critical control point), so that local farmers and exporters can meet international quality standards.
While the global economic slowdown has taken a bite out of conventional export drivers such as textiles; fruit exports hold promise of significant growth in existing as well as new markets. By facilitating growers, exporters and other related stakeholders, the government can increase exports, decrease dependence on textile exports to the EU, while also fostering deeper ties with Russia and other Central Asian states.
After all, what better diplomatic ice breaker can match the world-famous fresh and sweet Kinnow of Sargodha!