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Gaga: Rest in Peace (b.2002 - d.2010)

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Prices of Fruits and Vegetables in Pakistan

A very modest list of a weekend Sunday Market/Itawar Bazar organized by CDA in G-10/G-11 green belt: 68 types of vegetables and 30 types of fruits 10 types of fish and two kinds of chickens: free range/poltry were available...very impressive!

Pakistan is blessed with a very fertile soil - thanks to the Indus Basin as well as the wonderful climatic conditions - perfect to just-grow-anything. Really! Throw the seeds and see what will happen next -  with much less effort you will have your homegrown, organic veges and fruits in a matter of weeks - voila!

In all,  I have to say that the weekend markets run by CDA have played an important role in making fruits/vegetables accessible to all the citizens of the capital, Islamabad.

While living in Pakistan, I never noticed or appreciated the variety and abundance of fruits and vegetables until I had to leave this country and moved to places where I paid up to 15USD for one pomegranate (if I'm lucky), or 10USD for just one mango or having strict ginger rationing that used to come through special shipments or never saw a guava in 3 years.

All this happened in the so-called globalized and very interconnected world where labor, capital and the produce have no borders anymore but the myth burst for me finally while living in Korea when I realized that we are living in a very protective world - full of the invisible boundaries, dirty politics and barriers to produce from the developing world to the developed one.

I still remember, a friend who bought a box of four oranges from USA for 50 USD in Seoul at Sinsaegae Store- just because she got emotional to see oranges from her hometown and also she was of the opinion they the oranges from her hometown are the best.

Well back to our fresh, seasonal fruits/ vegetables in Pakistan - nothing can beat us. There is a fad in countries (OECD/developed ones) about well-being lifestyle which means: you eat organic, you eat seasonal and you eat locally produced fruits and vegetables. On the whole, it means that you are among the elite/privileged/well-educated group of people. I mean that's what it's like in States or even in some European countries, Japan and Korea. What you eat defines and categorizes you.

The fun part is what West defines and labels as all the above mentioned group of people- we in South Asia call them lower income families for what they eat and shy away from. I think that what people get to eat in Pakistan in general is a blessing in disguise - less meat  and more vegetables, that is. In short, Pakistanis eat less crazier than in other place. I still remember how much my mother used to ignore non-seasonal fruits and vegetables which she believed were not good in taste and were not as healthy as the seasonal produce and probably this was and still is the common wisdom of the land.

I also remember my Special Lectures Series on Korean Culture - an event organized by Kyung Hee University in which one of the famous professors of Korean Traditional Medicine emphasized the importance of eating seasonal produce as well as indulging in local food of the country of sojourn which can help balance the yin and yang dynamics.

If you are living in Islamabad, you will notice that all of a sudden you'll see some specific fruits in every nook and corner.  Small stalls are set up to press fresh juice - right in front of your eyes and the prices are ridiculously low or let me say one of the lowest in the world. Usually a specific fruit is seen for about 8 weeks or so and then it disappears and is replaced by another. When I first visited Pakistan after 8 years - it was autumn and I saw citrus fruits littered all over the place - on the road sides, bus stops, restaurants, bazaars, side walks and even in people's small gardens - you name it. Islamabad turned orange. Pakistan is the fifth largest producer of citrus fruit in the world and the varieties ranges between oranges, mandarins, grape fruit, kinnu and much, much more. Then I saw them disappearing and we had pomegranates and guavas, they disappeared and we saw strawberries and then cherries and then melon and water melons, kiwis, lychees, chikoo, falsas and finally mangoes made their way.

Unfortunately Pakistan exports only a fraction of its fruit varieties elsewhere in the world, a lot of it is wasted in packing, transporting and non availability of basic equipment as well as techniques. While reading an abstract on HEC website I found out in an abstract of a PhD thesis that: 
Pakistan has unique but complex network of up to five or six intermediaries between the primary producer and the end user.  

No wonder, this means a lot of wastage of the produce, rise in prices and all that. Also, we are muddling in politics more than doing extensive trade and business deals. I personally know how expensive and divine status an orange has in Russia and Central Asia. It is very, very expensive in this region and Pakistan can sell it's orange or even barter it (why not) with these countries but we have been unsuccessful (for whatever reasons). These hits and misses of losing business opportunities in emerging markets have only added to poverty in Pakistan and we must NOT forget that.

Back to fruits so let's talk mango. Mangoes are the pride of Pakistan considering the enormous varieties and the gorgeous taste they have. Mangoes are literally found in hundreds of types. Yes, hundreds. Pakistanis call them the 'King of all fruits'. They all taste different, smell different and have a fantastic texture and pulp consistency and fibre variations. Our childhood favourite was 'Chussnie Amm' - a type that you rub it in your palms and make it soft and then make a hole on top of it and start sucking the juice in (we were all mango suckers). My mom's favourite is Sindhree Amm. Some other types of mangoes are Chonsa, Langra, Tota Pari, Anwer Ratole, Malda, Fajri, Neelam etc.for pictures and types of mangoes click here).

We have a rich variety of fruit and vegetable and if one fails to find their required vege/ fruit then it is due to the lack of knowledge of the local name for it. I heard an American expat friend that she couldn't find gooseberries in Pakistan and I told her that we grow them a lot ( and it is called Amla in Urdu - an important ingredient in Aruvedic treatments). My mom used to make a homemade shampoo using gooseberries. People also make achar and press them  to extract oil for scalp (considered good for hair). Same goes with butternut, acorn squash and zucchini. I think it is more of a case of lost in translation scenario and nothing more. I have even found seaweeds in some markets that was locally produced - are you surprised- well, so was I.

So, I believe that one must explore the local fruit/vegetable bazaars or markets, indulge in them, find some local dishes that satisfy your taste buds and be conscious of yin and yang balance - no health guru or consultant is needed but only a bit of a reflection, curiosity, respect to foreign food culture is all we need when we eat and shop.

Here I'm listing the prices of some of the fruits and vegetables in Islamabad, Pakistan for reference ( I made a huge list but it got deleted so doing it all over - I ended up with fruits only).

The most noticeable fact is that the most expensive fruit costs 2.5USD per kilogram in Pakistan whereas the most expensive vegetable costs not more than a dollar - actually some are for a few cents a kilo.

Fruit prices for one kilogram quantity are mentioned below in dollars (American) in Islamabad, since we have two theree variations of the same fruit so you will be able to see the minimum to the maximum price in dollars:

Apples (various varieties): 50 cents - 2USD.
Pomegranate (2 types): 1.5USD - 2.5USD
Bananas: 40 cents to 1USD for a dozen (12 pieces).
Guava (4 types): 50 cents - 2USD
Peaches ((3 types): 60 cents - 1.5 USD
Apricots: 60 cents to 1.5USD
Mangoes (over a hundred type of mangoes): 50 cents to 2USD
Lychees: 1USD- 2 USD
Strawberries: 1.25 USD - 2USD
Cherries(3 types): 2USD - 2.5 USD
Falsa (Grewia): 2USD
Persimmon: 2USD
Melons ( 4 types): 20 cents
Watermelons (2 types): 15 cents
Papaya: 1USD
Pineapple: 2USD
Grapes (without seeds): 2USD
Chiku fruit (Sapota): 1USD
Shareefa (Aarticum/suger-apple): 2.5USD
Jamun/Black plums: 1USD
Loquat: 75 cents.
Grapes with seeds: 1USD
Oranges ( a couple of varieties- i know about 20 types): 50 cents for a dozen to 1.75USD for a dozen.

Now if we look at vegetables they are only a few cents per kilogram and I can hardly think of any vegetable that was sold for a dollar a kilo. So anyhow, in this situation I wonder how much do our farmers and especially small landowners earn off their hard labor?  I feel so bad about the conditions of "real" farmers in Pakistan who are living in abject poverty and are unable to feed themselves but feed the entire country and also Afghanistan.