Fruit, vegetable exporters want Torkham border opened

PESHAWAR: Farmers and exporters of fruits and vegetables have suggested to the government to make arrangements for keeping the Pak-Afghan border at Torkham open for 24 hours for more business with Afghanistan and the Central Asian states.

The local farmers, who had been producing best quality fruits and vegetables in their specially prepared agricultural fields on scientific methods, said they could compete in the international market if the hurdles being faced by them were removed.

During a visit to one of the main agricultural farms of hanging vegetables in Sardheri in Charsadda district, it was observed that dozens of labourers were busy packing best quality vegetables and fruits in decorated cartons but were worried about the expected closure of the Pak-Afghan border.

“The closure of the border after sunset at Torkham has been affecting our business as we cannot send our perishable fruits and vegetables in time to the international markets,” said Azmat Nawaz, the farm owner.

Several groups of trained labourers were busy in collecting vegetables and fruits from the farm established on 600 kanals of land while others were separating and packing the best quality produce and discarding the rest.

It was interesting to note that Azmat Nawaz, who established the farm after qualifying his MSc, has no personal agricultural land but acquired 600 kanals land from owners on lease. He has started producing hanging crops in the farm since 1996 but at the time the local people were ridiculing his ideas and also for purchasing seeds at higher rates.

But now most of the people have started producing hanging crops and earning a lot more than from traditional farming. Azmat Nawaz has generated jobs for more than 100 people in the area. Commonly known as Gul Dada, he claimed he could compete with exporters from India, Bangladesh, Spain and Morocco.

The vegetables and fruits produced at his farm, he said, were grown in a special environment and by using irrigation water and this was the reason that it had special taste and higher price in the foreign markets.

He said the customers liked his products compared to those from other countries. “We know the requirement of international market and our labourers are trained to check and grade the products before packing,” he said, while pointing to a pile and adding: “these would be sold in local market.”

He said the bitter guards, bottle guards, ridge guards; round guards, snake guards, long bean, bringal and okra (lady fingers) produced at his farm was in great demand in Europe and Central Asian markets.

“Our exporters are facing problems to reach the markets in Afghanistan, Central Asia and Europe. They will earn precious foreign exchange if the government solves their problems,” Azmat Nawaz while pointing out that exporters from India and Bangladesh were getting subsidies from their respective governments.

The farmers, exporters and others, he maintained, had been apprising the authorities regarding their problems but to no avail.

He said that the government had established agri- cultural, horticulture and export departments but their efficacy was doubtful as nothing significant was being done for the promotion and export of agricultural products. He said Afghanistan was one of the easily accessible market but the government imposed taxes on route permits instead of providing concessions to exporters.