By Iftikhar Ahmad

MULTAN, Oct 13 (APP):Pakistan is heading towards production of exotic foreign date palm varieties at home with ‘Ajwa’, the Madina-based Saudi Arabian variety on top of the list which is also known for its wholesome nutritious qualities and health benefits.

‘Ajwa’, a variety of date considered precious among the Muslims who love it the most and feel proud to serve their special guests with this unique mouth-watering delight.

There are Ahadith-e-Nabvi (PBUH) narrating health benefits of Ajwa.
Talking to APP, Horticulturist Muhammad Akhlaq at Horticulture Research Station (HRS) Bahawalpur said t about two dozen foreign date varieties have shown good production results including high value varieties Barhee, Khalas, Amber and a California-based US variety, Medjoul.

He said the harvest of 21 imported date palm varieties has been completed est which had also undergone the food processing stage successfully at HRS Bahawalpur.

Other foreign date palm high value brands included Sheeshi, Sultana, Nabtul Saif, Suggai, Khudri, Lulu, Nemeishi, Raziz, Zamli and others. These varieties were imported from Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Iran, Egypt and the USA by the government.

The story began a few years ago when government imported some date palm germ plasm of exotic varieties for research to assess its acclimatization response in Pakistani weather conditions.

After witnessing the successful growth pattern at HRS Bahawalpur, the Punjab government has approved a Rs 708 million project to import five top brand date varieties including Ajwa, Amber, Khalas, Barhee and Medjoul for its multiplication in local environment.

The plants had started shown good growth pattern and now have passed the maturity stage. These are good in size, shape, colour and taste, he added. He said that dates are an all-weather delight, a source of immediate energy boost and an essential part of some superior royal dessert recipes but lack of forward looking approach was keeping the country away from harnessing the economic benefits of the enormous potential of the exotic fruit.

Akhlaq is an acclaimed scientist who has 10 mango varieties to his credit besides fifteen other indigenous fruit varieties including pomegranates, Jujube and dates recently approved by Punjab Seed Council (PSC) for multiplication and general cultivation.

The winner of best scientist award in 2018 is the man behind successful tissue culture of high value foreign date palm varieties in laboratory and amassed thriving results on field.

Pakistan is the sixth largest producer of dates with annual production of 600,000 tons with Egypt being the top date producer at 1,570,000 tons per annum. Iran is second highest producer with 1,096,000 tons, Saudi Arabia (1,080,000 tons), Algeria (789,000 tons), Iraq (650,000 tons), Pakistan (600,000 tons), Oman (270,000 tons), UAE (250,000 tons), Tunisia (190,000 tons), and Libya (170,000 tons).

However, export data showed that very low quantity of dates are exported as compared to its production.

According to Trade Development Authority of Pakistan (TDAP), the country has exported over 125 million kilogram including 11 million kilogram fresh and 114 million kg dried dates in 2015-16 fetching over US$80.4 million including US$10.5 million from fresh dates.

In 2016-17, Pakistan exported over 188 million kilogram including 13 million kilogram of fresh and over 175 million kg of dried dates fetching total US $114.14 million which included US$ 12484000 or US$ 12.4 million from fresh dates.

In 2017-18, overall exports of fresh and dried dates brought US $ 105,544,000 or US $ 105 million foreign exchange to the country including US $ 17.5 million from fresh dates.

Sensing the situation and encouraged by the research results of HRS Bahawalpur, the Punjab government has recently supplemented the initiative by launching a Rs 30 million project to set up a tissue culture laboratory at HRS Bahawalpur.

The equipments for the tissue culture laboratory would be imported while a sizable portion at HRS would be converted into laboratory.

Akhlaq said that was a big development, adding that it would help us carve out a laboratory recipe for root development, shoot development and plant hardening in few years.

He said that once it happens, the laboratory will be able to produce plants and hand it over to farmers to multiply the production, a development that would hopefully improve farmers and the country’s earning from exports.