Chilli farming under CPEC to expand over 5,000 acres in Pakistan

Web DeskWeb Editor

19th Jul, 2021. 02:46 pm
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ISLAMABAD: After a successful pilot project at 100 acres under the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), the next phase of chilli farming will be ready for launch with the upcoming sowing season.

Referring to an article published by the China Economic Net, CPEC Authority chairman Lieutenant-General Asim Saleem Bajwa (Retd) in a tweet said, the chilli farming could spread over an area of 5,000 acres in various regions of the country.

According to the article, Pakistan has ideal conditions for chilli/pepper cultivation. Pakistan is among the top 10 chilli producing nations, which enjoy a combination of warm, humid yet dry weather and a well-drained sandy loam with rich organic content.

However, Pakistan’s chilli production has been lower than the world average for the same period since 2015. From FY2014/15 to FY2017/18, the average annual production of chilli in Pakistan was around 143,428 tonnes, but it plummeted to 126,943 tonnes in FY2018/19, accounting for 85.7 per cent, its peak in FY2017/18 of 148,114 tonnes.

In Pakistan, the Sindh province is the major producer of chilli; followed by Punjab and Balochistan. The major constraints in the production faced by chilli farmers are the lack of modern irrigation system, imbalance in use of fertiliser and pesticides, and the lack of training.

“In Pakistan old methods of the 1960s, 1970s or 1980s are adopted by the farmers. Now, Pakistan has to adopt modern technology to increase its production,” Zahid Gishkori, a special investigative correspondent in Pakistan, suggested.

What is worse, the growers are troubled by some marketing issues, including unreasonable commission agent charges, improper weighing, price fluctuations and the lack of proper storage facilities. The pepper growers are unable to make a proper profit from chilli due to marketing channel barriers.

Talking to the China Economic Net, Khurum Javed Maqbool, director marketing of the Fatima AG Solutions Limited, Pakistan, said, at present, the entire ecosystem in Pakistan is inefficient.

“From harvesting to sewing and storing of the crop and then selling it and then farmers getting financing and then the returns for their produce… All these operations require improvement.”

In July, a pilot chilli farm project under the cooperation between the Pakistani farmers and their Chinese partners – CMEC and Sichuan Litong Food Group – began to bear fruit, with a yield around three times Pakistani varieties.

Chen Changwei, chairman of the Sichuan Litong Food Group, China, said that their pilot chilli farm project successfully completed 100 acres of plantation in the first half of 2021 in Lahore.

For the 100-acre-pilot-project, the quantities of seeds are 380 grams/acre, with a yield reaching 3 tonne/acre. The total production is expected to reach 300 tonnes, he added.

As per the Ministry of National Food Security and Research (Economic Wing), chilli is grown on 47,349 hectares in Pakistan with a crop yield of around 2.68 tonnes/hectare (1.072 tonnes/acre) and an annual production of around 126,943 tonnes in FY2018/19.

Chen said they have brought a total of 13 varieties of Chinese chillies to Pakistan since 2019. It took them three years to conduct the pilot programme, and of all these 13 varieties, two varieties, PJH-302 and PJH-407, have been certified for cultivation in the country.

“Seed is the basic input for [the] agriculture sector and has an imperative role in enhancing agriculture productivity, food security and poverty alleviation,” the Year Book 2019/20 released by the Ministry of National Food Security and Research reported.

On top of the seeds, the field management is also of great significance. The correct and careful management of farming and farmers could increase efficiency and reduce risk.

“We’re gonna arrange a team of 3 [three] agricultural experts on each chilli field of around 0.165 acres,” Wu Guang told China Economic Net. And these agricultural experts will train Pakistani staff in planting technology.

Advanced Chinese irrigation systems have also been introduced into the field. Umer Diyal, a farmer who worked in the pilot chilli farm in Qasbi, Lahore, said that the Chinese introduced an irrigation system, and the expense of fertiliser has been reduced and every plant was getting water. “Watering of plants is not complex and expensive anymore,” he added.

Also, contract farming helps a lot when it comes to addressing the farmers’ concerns about marketing. Agriculture-related economy is vulnerable, so “we’re conducting contract farming with Pakistani farmers,” Guang told China Economic Net.

That is, Pakistani farmers undertake to supply agreed quantities of chilli, based on the quality standards and delivery requirements of CMEC. In return, CMEC agrees to buy the chilli, at a price that is nailed down in advance.

“When the chillies are ripe, they are naturally dried and then shipped back to China for further processing,” Changwei noted.

“If there is a farmer, who has harvested 100 acres of chilli crops in Nawabshah, Sindh, and his profits from the local markets would be low. Around 70 per cent of the households in Pakistan grow on their own, so they wish to export the chilli to other countries,” Gishkori said, hinting that contract farming might be a feasible way for them to ‘export’ at the doorsteps during the pandemic period.

“This model generates employment in the rural economy, reduces risk for firms, and provides income for farmers,” Guang said, adding that in the next phase of the pilot chilli farm project, as many as 3,000 acres of land would be brought under the chilli cultivation.

Chinese Ambassador to Pakistan Nong Rong praised the chilli farming project, saying that the project is expected to produce more than 8,000 tonnes of dried chillies with a net income of more than Rs100,000/acre for the local farmers.

Lastly, Pakistan has another advantage over China in growing chillies. Sequential cropping is feasible here, as the climate, soil, and water of Pakistan are different from that of China.

Chilli is a tropical and sub-tropical plant, which requires warmer weather.

Changwei said that the largest planting area of chilli in China is its northern part, which turns cold after September, so mostly chilli can only be planted for one season in China.

In Pakistan, “We can complete two seasons of planting as long as we avoid high temperatures from mid-June to August,” he said.

“Our ultimate goal is to cooperate with our Pakistani friends on 200,000 acres of land here,” Changwei said.

Based on the planting, they will further develop downstream deep processing industries and create more employment opportunities in the future.

Guang and Changwei further shared with the reporter their three-step strategy. Chen said that in the first phase of the chilli contract farming project, China-Pakistan Agricultural Cooperation Pilot Zone is to be set up in five years, forming an industrial belt from areas around Faisalabad, Multan, Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa and Lahore.

The second step is processing. A chilli processing plant will be established in Pakistan within three years to extract chilli pigment and chilli essence, with an industrial output value of $200 million, he added.

In the third phase, a China-Pakistan food industrial park would be established in 5 to 10 years to help Pakistan boost processed chilli exports in the days to come.

Wu said chilli is only the beginning and they are to plant more crops such as garlic in Pakistan in the days to come, so as to form a complete industrial chain to deep process raw material close by.

“Many Chinese enjoy chilli sauce that is made of chilli, beans, garlic and so on, and it would be easier and economical to export deep-processed chilli products like bottled chilli sauce than raw material,” Guang added.

“As the Chinese technical researchers are involved in it we are sure the project has high prospects,” Dr Muhammad Azeem Khan, chairman of the Pakistan Agricultural Research Council (PARC), told CEN reporter, adding that the processed chilli will be exported from Pakistan, generating revenue from foreign markets and upgrading industrial structure in Pakistan.

As China became the world’s leading chilli and pepper consuming country, there is ample room for Pakistan-China cooperation.

According to statistics released by the General Administration of Customs of China, the country imported 49,800 tonnes of chilli worth $34.002 million in 2020.

However, China did not import any chilli or chilli products from Pakistan in 2020. And for the last five years, it has only imported limited processed chilli products from Pakistan worth $4,099 in 2018/19.

Despite its low export volume, Pakistan’s chilli has been well-received in China. On Daraz, the leading online marketplace in South Asia, it takes Rs398 to buy one red chilli powder weighing 110 grams.

But when one searches for the Pakistani chilli on JD.com, a Chinese e-commerce giant, one could find the same red chilli powder exported from Pakistan. It costs RMB 33.6 (Rs820) to buy one in China, which is twice the original price in Pakistan.

“This red chilli powder is incredible! For curry cooking, authentic spices count a lot,” a Chinese netizen posted a comment on it.

“At present, Pakistani pepper has a limited market share in China. But we are very confident that we can achieve a yield from hundreds of tonnes to tens of thousands of tonnes as the Pakistan-China project on chilli succeeded!” Guang expressed his confidence in Pakistani chilli’s future market share in China.

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