Jan 06, 2015 – Ahmad Fraz Khan – Dawn –
WITH the European Union banning citrus imports from India and putting Pakistan on the warning list because of the fruit fly problem, the Agriculture University, Faisalabad, has taken up the gauntlet of preparing a national policy on pests. The stakeholders will gather next week at the university to thrash out its contours.
Such a policy has been long overdue. Now, the threat is that the list of its affectees is expanding and, as fears are, might damage exports of all fruits and vegetables.
If experience of some successful countries is something to go by, the fruit fly does not have one-time and on-site solutions; it rather requires an integrated and geographical solution because its host plants grow almost in all four seasons and it affects almost entire range of perishable fruits and vegetables — from mango to citrus to guava to gourd. With such a wide range of host plants, spread across the country and seasons, the problem can only be dealt with an integrated policy — covering the entire areas round the year. This reality could provide the starting point for such a policy.
The international community has demonstrated that over 80pc of fruit fly losses could be controlled through better management practices
On the next level, the policy must have two prongs; killing the pest at source and risk management strategy throughout the supply and export chain. For killing the pest at source, building human resource at the plant protection departments and provincial extension services is the core issue. Unfortunately, both have been weakest point in the production system.
It can also introduce specialised extension service for horticultural products. Pakistan has so far has limited its agricultural extension service, to four main crops — cotton, cane, rice and wheat. Even that service leaves much to be desired. Building a new service on a new concept is required. Once in place, controlling the pest at farms must be their responsibility.
Another priority area could be to stop planting host plants (guava tops the list) in the citrus and mango areas. Luckily, the country has cluster zones for both fruits and weeding out host plants should not be a problem for it. Linking the farms to exporters could also help; they could also take part of the responsibility. All farms, which supply fruit to exporters, should be monitored against these plants regularly.
The international community has demonstrated that over 80pc of fruit fly losses could be controlled through better management practices. This makes fruit fly more of a subject of management rather than that of entomologists. Pakistan citrus belt, concentrated in the central Punjab, is decades-old and so is the export process.
Normally, the farmers and exporters should have learnt to control this, albeit ferocious, pest — at least the progressive and bigger ones. They outsource management of their orchards to less trained, less aware and less concerned manpower. This sets off a process, which then impacts all subsequent processes — from harvesting to grading, packing and export. The smaller farmers lack awareness, training and, the most importantly, resources to control the pest.
The second plank has to be risk mitigation. Only the exporters, with proper paraphernalia of the treatment plants and trained staff and packaging teams, should be allowed to export fruits. If the exporters want to make money, they must invest in the first place. They should be given full standard operating procedures — from farm to treatment to exports — with each stage requiring specific measures to deal with the pest. If killing the pest at sources could be responsibility of the farmers and extension workers, taking all mitigation measures has to be done by the packers and the exporters. The treated fruits should be clearly marker and packed in different colours so that they don’t mix with the untreated ones, marring the entire process.