HYDERABAD: Season for new jujube began in the middle of January, but this year market arrivals remain slow as last September’s heatwave damaged the fruit in its early flowering stage.
Traders and contractors also pin the low yields on water shortage.
Tayyab Leghari, a local activist keeping a close eye on the agricultural matters in a village near Tando Allahyar town, said, “We have a number of small-scale jujube gardens around our village where movement of picking and packing seems slow.”
When fruits are abundant, villagers get basketsfull delivered to their homes, but with lower yields this year, they are still waiting for their share.
Usually, jujube stays in the market until March or in some cases up till April, depending on the weather situation.
Sindh is home to various famous varieties of this fruit, which are well liked in Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. The fruit is supplied in vast quantities in major cities of these provinces, apart from the cities and towns in Sindh.
Liaquat Ali, a trader from the suburbs of Hyderabad, who deals with jujube gardens for business, said the heat wave along with water scarcity damaged this fruit in a wide area. He was not sure about the productivity this year because of the weather phenomenon.
Traders recall the situation of jujube two years back when the government had imposed a lockdown to avoid the spread of Covid-19 during the peak season. The action took a huge toll on traders, who could not even recover the cost of the product as markets were closed down and transportation halted.
The very next year in 2021, they recovered the loss when they received high profit because of pleasant weather and water availability. Producers, traders as well as the workforce associated with different tasks earned well last season.
Jujube, or ber as locally called, is a well-liked fruit in many households.
There is a tradition that producers do not deal with jujube gardens, picking, grading, packing, loading, and transportation to the market. They allot their fields to contractors for one or two years. The traders have to bear the cost of care, watering, picking and transportation to the markets.
Presently, street vendors on national highway as well as in various neighbourhoods of Hyderabad city can be seen selling the new raw jujube called lemon golo and white golo for Rs60-100/kg, which the consumers consider costly.
Generally, jujube is a cheap fruit accessible to all poor consumers in rural as well as urban areas.
Hyderabad, Matiari, Sanghar, Tando Allahyar, Mirpurkhas and Khairpur districts are said to be the hubs of producing a variety of jujube in Sindh.
Around 25 years ago, Sindh was famous for varieties like kingri, sufi and kherol. But now these varieties have either depleted or been replaced with new golo varieties.
Old varieties were famous for aroma, taste and colour and used to come to the market in January, February or early March and continued till April. But new golo varieties start coming to the market earlier; from January or in some cases in December.
Before the emergence of Covid-19, Iran and Iraq were major markets for Sindh jujube. Exporters used to take the product from fields at reasonable rates to earn foreign exchange.
But after the pandemic, traders lost their potential markets. Since then uncertainty prevails in terms of supplying this fruit to foreign markets.
Lemon golo variety from Dighri is a favorite and traders love to purchase it for the market. Last year traders sold 15-20/kg bags of this variety for Rs2,500—3,000.
However, this year the situation seems uncertain for producers and traders across the province. Dighri is said to be among the advanced areas in agriculture crops and fruit harvest.
Among all seasonal fruits in Sindh, jujube has low priority and only a few farmer families cultivate it with grafting. This fruit always attracts the market and traders earn profit.
Hundreds of workers, both men and women, are also associated with this wintering fruit for livelihood. Mostly these workers perform picking, grading, packing and loading to markets.
Farmers have observed negative impacts on the gardens because of low soil fertility, which affects the quality of the fruit as well. Previously, conscious farmers used farmyard manure to maintain the health of the fruit plants.
That along with freshwater used to improve yields and keep the plants healthy.
Currently, farmers in the Thar Desert are trying to establish jujube gardens via grafting and drip irrigation systems in the hope for better sources of nutrient fruits for local residents.
The desert is also home to the wild ziziphus varieties, which are easily accessible for the community free of cost.