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Pakistan: Dry fruit business thrives in twin cities

Winter is the season to cash in on the dry fruit business. Many vendors on pushcarts capitalise on the seasonal delight. The consumption of dry fruits normally surges by 50 per cent in winter. Dry fruits are largely used in weddings, sweets and other sweet dishes. Dry fruits are also an integral part of weddings in the form of traditional exchange of sweets, fruits and dry fruits between the family of bride and groom. Also, dry fruits are distributed after Nikah. Almonds, pistachios, walnuts, cashew, prunes, peanuts, dried apricots, dates, and coconut are the most common eaten dry fruits.

Many of us would recall winter days when they would sit with their family members in cosy environs of moderately warmed rooms and watch television. All this time we would endlessly eat all types of dry fruits. These activities went on till late in the night on weekends or long winter vacations.

In Pakistan, dry fruits are cultivated in Quetta, Chaman, Sukkur, Changa Manga, Multan, Swat and a number of districts of Punjab and NWFP. However, the production of dry fruits falls short of demand, therefore, they are imported from Afghanistan, Iran, India, US, Vietnam, Sri Lanka, China and Turkey. Almond and peanut are imported more than other dry fruits due to their higher consumption.

A survey of the twin cities' markets reveals that the most demanded dry fruits are peanuts costing Rs 100 per kg, almond without shell Rs 400-600 per kg, walnuts with shell Rs 100 to Rs150 per kg, chilghozay Rs 900-1100 per kg and Kaju Rs 450 per kg. Dry fruit sellers believe that the cost of transportation from Iran via Balochistan has increased. Now there are more risks involved and more money demanded by those posted at check posts and rail staff, they allege.

"An overall increase in local consumption of dry fruit has increased the prices. Now these items are being increasingly used in bakery and food items. Another important factor is that dry fruit is a non-perishable item unlike fresh fruits, vegetables and meat. The importers and stockists can hold their stocks for long and release them in small quantities. This way they can create artificial shortage and demand higher prices from buyers," said Nadeem Ali, a dry fruits supplier.

Baz Khan, a dry fruit trader in Dalgran bazaar, told this scribe that certain factors like increasing exports, unrest in dry fruit growing regions, the 2005 earthquake and increase in local consumption have pushed prices up. The earthquake destroyed a vast region on which walnut was planted. Trees were uprooted. If there are any of these trees left people cut them down to get wood for construction of their damaged houses.

"Many more trees have been lost to military operation going on in South Waziristan. A lot of them were burnt down or uprooted after coming in the line of gunfire or mortar attack. This area produces best variety of chilghoza. Although there are trees in Suleman Range but they produce a small fraction of total chilghoza produced in Pakistan," said Baz Khan, who belongs to Balakot in Hazara Division.

Perhaps this is the reason that a friend of mine who is very fond of chilghozas can only buy a few grams now. In the past his pockets would always full of this item and he would offer it to everyone with whom he wanted to socialise. Price of chilghoza, for example, has increased by 300 per cent to 500 per cent in the last couple of years.

"Unrest in the dry fruit growing region is not mainly responsible for the yield shortage. For the last three to four years weather has been unfavourable. Chilghoza crop needs sufficient rainfall and snowfall. Last year, chilghoza producing areas like Zhob, Wana, Meeran Shah, Data Khel and Jalalabad had sufficient rainfall and snowfall. We hope that the yield will be good this year too and prices of chilghoza will come down next year," says Ashfaq Raza, an office-bearer of dry fruit merchants association in Rawalpindi.

Presently, about 300 vendors in Islamabad and Rawalpindi are selling dry fruits in almost all vicinities of the twin cities. Most of these seasonal dry fruit sellers are small traders, farmers or labourers who flock to twin cities to find an alternate source of earning.

"Every winter about 50 young men from our village come to Rawalpindi with about one tonne of locally grown dry fruits," says Muhammad Ayub, a resident of Chaman district, who had been coming to Rawalpindi for the last couple of years.

These vendors create competition for retailers since they are more easily accessible with their street carts parked in a number of residential areas around the city and they also sell products at low prices. Compared with rest of the year, dry fruits are the cheapest in winters due to renewed supply and dealers willing to sell at lower margins. The cost rises during summer due to short supply. However, the dry fruit market in Rawalpindi, traditionally a place of bustling business in winter, now shows a much lesser activity.


Publication date: 11/21/2007


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