• By: Iftikhar Ahmed (ifti12560@gmail.com)

The citrus industry in Pakistan boons a vivacious depiction of agricultural success. With Pakistan enjoying 12th rank as citrus producer and boasting a dominant Kinnow variety (a tangy hybrid of tangerine and grapefruit), the sector holds immense potential for economic growth.

However, maximizing this potential requires a strategic shift towards value addition, transforming raw produce into high-value products for export markets. According to a Joint Report of The Federation of Pakistan Chambers of Commerce & Industry – Policy Advisory Board and University of Agriculture Faisalabad (UAF) the majority of citrus production around the world comes from oranges, which account for more than half of the global citrus production.

The biggest citrus-producing countries in the world are China, Brazil and the USA. Over the last ten years, the global import volume of citrus products has increased at an average rate of 1.7 percent. This can be attributed to an increasing health consciousness globally, and a growing awareness of the nutritional benefits of citrus fruits and their by-products.

Pakistan ranks 12th among the leading global producers of citrus fruit. It exports citrus products in the form of fresh fruit as well as value-added products, worth around USD 185 million, to the world. Despite having a major share in citrus fruit production, the country is still challenged by improper practices on citrus orchards, natural calamities, post-harvest losses, fluctuation in the market prices, alongside geo-political factors such as the COVID pandemic and the current Russia-Ukraine conflict.

The sector’s trade performance is restricted by a lack of diversified varieties of locally grown citrus fruit. For instance, the mandarins cultivated locally do not meet the consumer preferences of the major importing markets.

The yield of citrus produce on the field is low as the growing varieties are not adapted to the soil and climate change. The adoption of GAP in the citrus orchards is limited, and poor value chain infrastructure results in an estimated 35 to 40 percent of post-harvest losses. The low quality is another major limiting factor that tends to impact the price competitiveness of locally grown citrus in the international markets. In addition, consumer preferences towards seedless citrus varieties in the global markets, lack of proper grading mechanisms, and non-compliance with the quality standards like SPS measures, ISO, and the Global GAP certifications have led to the average unit price of Pakistan’s raw citrus exports to be the lowest among leading global exporters.

The experts and economists suggest exploring the value-addition opportunities for citrus products and the potential for Pakistan to trade them in international markets. Citrus value-added categories include juices, jam, jellies, marmalade, purees and essential oils. The value-added citrus exports of the country currently stand at just around USD 14 million. However, considering the existing processing capacity, Pakistan’s export potential of value-added citrus products is USD 895 million. If Pakistan could increase its existing capacity by 80% and 100%, it would be able to increase the export potential up to USD 1.1 billion and USD 1.3 billion respectively. Pakistan has the highest untapped potential for exports in the European market for value-added citrus products, followed by Asia, the Americas, Africa and Oceania respectively.

In addition, a surge in global demand for citrus products, as well as increasing commodity prices, would help increase export earnings. The top destination for Pakistan’s citrus exports includes Afghanistan, Russia, and the Philippines. The experts have also identified the premium markets for increasing the country’s citrus export basket which mainly includes GCC countries (UAE, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Oman), Central Asian states (Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan), China, South Africa, Turkiye and Norway.

In addition, exports can also be increased in already established export markets such as the USA, Canada, Netherlands, and the UK. Currently, however, Pakistan is struggling to meet the stringent international food safety and export quality requirements.

Citrus waste processing is another way to potentially increase exports and reduce raw material imports. Citrus waste is disposed-off after juice processing despite its potential utilization for value addition. It consists of nearly 60 percent peels, 30 percent tissues, and 10 percent seeds. Citrus waste can be processed to produce several valuable by-products, such as peel powder, tea, candies (confectionery items), lemon pickles, pectin, animal feed, cosmetics, and pharmaceuticals.

Citrus value chain constraints at the production, processing, and export market side in the country have been identified through consultation with stakeholders. Production level issues are characterized by low-density citrus plantation, primitive management practices, disease infestations, lack of improved varieties of planting material and development of new citrus varieties/nurseries, and poor ties between research wings and citrus growers. Processing constraints include improper packaging and transportation, inadequate storage facilities, limited processing, and a lack of certification.

In the export market, the issues include poor quality of both raw and value-added commodities, excessive seeds in raw fruit, citrus diseases like Canker, reliance on a single variety, limited market access, inadequate promotional activities, non-compliance with the import protocols, and high NTMs.

Policies are recommended to address challenges at different levels, ranging from citrus production to value-addition processing and market development. A few of these interventions include restoring orchards, strengthening R&D and promotional activities, and collaboration among government departments, agro-industrial experts, the private sector, research entities and academia.

The formation of cold chain infrastructure, certifying production practices, and promoting trade in high-end markets are imperatives for Pakistan’s citrus industry. In addition, through negotiations of trade agreements, enhancing processing capacity, and investing in value addition opportunities, Pakistan can diversify its citrus export basket.

  • The writer is a research scholar at The Institute of Management Sciences Peshawar

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