According to a recent report by the USDA, the four most date-producing countries in the world are Pakistan, Egypt, Iran and Nigeria. The report indicates that Pakistan’s produce accounts for around 75% of the world’s date production. However, its agricultural productivity is expected to grow only slightly (less than one percent) through 2021 due to a lack of external markets. Egypt’s agricultural output is expected to grow by just over two percent but is expected to recover slowly due to rising domestic demand.
Out of the four date-producing countries, only two of them exportable fruits to the USA. According to the USDA, Egypt sells the most to the USA, followed by Pakistan and then Nigeria. Both Egypt and Pakistan produce mostly edible fruits but due to limited quantities, the prices they fetch is quite low. On the other hand, Nigeria exports the highest amount to the rest of the east Asian countries. While India is the single largest importer of date production, Pakistan and Iran are the major importers of processed and ready to use produce from Egypt and Pakistan respectively.
The top fruit varieties grown in the four date-producing countries are; kiwi, mango, date palm, bush cherry and watermelon. A typical farmer in Egypt will plant approximately six acres of date palm trees and will harvest approximately six tons of dates per annum. The average yield per year is approximately ten tons per acre. This means that an area of about one square kilometer can yield about sixty kilograms of dates per annum.
On the other hand, in comparison, the yields in the other regions of the world are much lower. In this case, the reason is not technical but economic. Agriculture is a slow growing sector requiring minimal investment. This means that except for subsidies, the price of dates will not fluctuate according to market conditions. For this reason, if the demand for the crop remains stable, the prices will not fluctuate on a regular basis, and thus there will be no price change due to political or financial instability in the country concerned.
It is not wrong to assume that Pakistan is one of the world’s largest exporters of dates. However, the quality of the crop is questionable. As a result, the export sector of Pakistan has indirectly supported the growth of illegal timber trade. At present, the potential for revenue generation from the date production sector is minimal and therefore Pakistan cannot expect significant revenue through this sector. However, with the introduction of new policies by the Government of Pakistan, this aspect may soon change.
In order to improve the quality of the exports, the Government of Pakistan is making some fundamental changes in the way the dated are grown. Currently, the system of collecting rents from villagers is not efficient enough to ensure a healthy return on investment. On the other hand, the palm tree growers and traders have a free hand to manipulate the climatic conditions so that they can harvest their palms on a large-scale. There is possibility that the Government may introduce a mechanism through which the quality of the dates could be evaluated prior to their export so that a minimum number of date is produced per year. Moreover, it is expected that the prices of dates will stabilize once this policy is implemented.
The existing government policies are encouraging the development of the domestic industry instead of encouraging the growth of the national economy. Although the domestic industry is increasing, it is not yet replacing the traditional agricultural activities. To conclude, the scenario in Pakistan is such that the demand for dates is increasing at an alarming rate and this trend is likely to continue. This is because of the poor quality of the produce available in the local markets.
The other major producer of date palm is Egypt. Egyptian dates are sold at subsidized prices in the Middle East and Asia. Although the harvest is smaller than that of Pakistan and India, it still manages to make a significant amount of money. In addition, the Egyptian government encourages its Egyptian retailers to increase the production of dates by encouraging them to add premium grades to the varieties of dates produced from local resources.