With more than 349,000 hectares, Pakistan is a key player in the banana industry. 90% of this land lies in the Sindh province in the south-east of the country. The majority of banana farmers in this area are smallholders with less than 20 hectares. However, due to lack of farmer knowledge, out-dated techniques and the use of planting materials carrying pests and diseases, yields have been disappointing – only a quarterof those obtained by farmers using modern techniques.
Investment in the agricultural sector is recognised to be the best long term solution to improve the lives of poor rural communities. In terms of bananas, this means the development of a new banana production strategy to help overcome the problems faced throughout the industry. It’s increasingly understood that more research is required along with drawing up a blueprint for any future development schemes.
Farmers tend to only receive a quarter of the final retail price with various middle men taking a cut. By strengthening links between farmer and market the farmer should get a fairer price for his produce.
Banana cultivation and exports are expected to increase after improvement in the marketing sector over the last four years.
Farmers find banana cultivation an attractive prospect due to it being grown all year round, as well as the price difference in local and international markets. Bananas are cultivated on almost 90,000 acres of land in the country, while the produce on one acre can bring around Rs0.4 million – the highest among fruits grown in the country.
Banana growers, approached by The Express Tribune, said that the increasing market value of bananas have made it an attractive crop. They underlined that in coming days, banana marketing will pick up pace and exports to Iran, Afghanistan and Central Asian Republics will rise, because of price differences between domestic and foreign markets.
However, agricultural researchers see loopholes in the sector due to insufficient research. They explained that current banana production is based on traditional methods, which result in the output falling short of international quality standards.
Banana cultivation in the country started after independence, and after its success in Sindh, it emerged as an important fruit crop. Data in table 1 indicates that Sindh is a major banana producing area with about 85 to 92 per cent in banana acreage and about 90 per cent of production. The average area under the fruit in Sindh was 32,200 hectares with a production of 1,26,000 tons during 2006-07. (GOP, 2006-07).
In Sindh, banana is mainly cultivated in Khairpur, Hyderabad, Thatta, Nawabshah, Noshahro Feroz, Sanghar, Mirpurkhas and Badin districts. Further data in figure 1 indicate that Khairpur, Thatta and Hyderabad districts are the leading banana producing districts with production of 35,324, 30,432 and 21,996 tons respectively.
Horticulturists have developed technology for the prevention of disease through cultural practices. To eradicate the disease, the orchard is destroyed after three years of fruiting. It is reported that the disease attacks the plants after three years and the plants cannot survive.
Banana has a lot of potential to earn foreign exchange. During the four months of the peak season about 50 to 60 trucks (250 mds capacity) of banana per day are exported to Afghanistan and about four to five trucks to Iran.
Cost of production: Plantation of banana orchard at the initial stage involves cost of land development, labour utilisation and input application. Land development needs the most attention and time. Total cost per acre for banana production is presented and calculated in table 2. It has been found that average cost per acre is around Rs66,300.
Banana is cultivated by a large number of farmers mainly in Thatta, Hyderabad, Nawabshah and Khairpur districts. A majority of them sell harvesting rights of their orchards to contractors. The contracts are mostly finalised in February which is for one year. The contractor estimates its yield and calculates costs to be incurred for supervision, labour, transportation and marketing, and pre-harvest and post-harvest losses.
Wholesalers buy and sell the fruit with the help of commission agents who bring the sellers and buyers together. The wholesaler deals in the inter-regional markets and supply produce to processing industries, exporters and retailers according their demand.
A wholesaler is a major agency in marketing of agricultural products, having good contacts with commission agents in the wholesale markets and retailers in the local markets/area. Wholesalers mostly purchase the product from commission agents on credit and return the same after selling the product.
Sindh has monopoly in growing banana with the availability of natural resources such as fertile land and suitable weather conditions. There is sufficient production to meet the domestic demand and to earn foreign exchange through export of value-added products such as banana powder etc.
There is also need to carry out research for producing high-yield varieties and improving shelf-life of the fruit. Exploring of new banana markets and encouraging local traders for better packing by providing attractive packing material can enhance export of the fruit.