“Plump and fragrant. I can easily peel it off without any tools, just by hand! I will definitely recommend it to my friends.”
On one of China’s leading e-commerce platforms, click on the homepage of a Pakistani pine nuts shop with the highest sales volume, it is not difficult to see that the monthly sales volume exceeds 8,000 pieces, and among the more than 7,000 reviews, such praise can be found everywhere.
In the Chinese nut market, Pakistani pine nuts mean a veritable “luxury”.
At present, its price on mainstream Chinese e-commerce platforms is as high as about RMB 300-650 per kilogramme (about Rs8,473-18,359).
However, Pakistani exporters have been complaining that the price of local pine nuts dropped sharply, “at its worst, each kilogram can be sold for less than Rs2,000 (about RMB 71)”.
Why is the price of the same product so different in the two countries? Can these little nuts bring more opportunities to Pakistan?
Demand creates ‘luxury’
In China, Pakistani pine nuts enjoy a high price premium. A bag of selected Pakistani pine nuts (400 grams) can even sell for RMB 190 (about Rs5,366), which is nearly twice that of other kinds.
At present, China has become one of the main export destinations for Pakistani pine nuts.
According to the Agriculture Marketing Information Service (AMIS), in 2018-19 (July 2018-June 2019, a good year) and 2019-20 (a small year), Pakistan exported 692 tons and 73.9 tons of pine nuts to China respectively, worth Rs820 million and Rs190 million, accounting for 45.86% and 14% of the total export volume.
“Compared with other main varieties in the Chinese market, including Siberian and Korean pine, Pakistani pine nuts have a huge variety advantage. With a thinner skin and plumper flesh, it has low fat content and rich nutrients. Beyond that, the kernel rate of Pakistani pine nuts can reach 80%, while that of red pine nuts from northeast China is about 40%, only half of the Pakistani type,” Xin Mindong, Manager of Zhicheng Food Co Ltd, Meihekou City, Jilin, who has been trading Pakistani pine nuts for more than 15 years, told China Economic Net in an exclusive interview.
“For us, due to the impact of the epidemic in the past two years, land routes have been partially blocked, and sea transport may take as long as 40 days, which is not conducive to the storage of pine nuts. Besides, the market price of pine nuts fluctuates continually.
“In contrast, expensive air transport is our best choice now. So far, flights have been cut because of the epidemic, the air freight per ton of pine nuts is about RMB 37,000, which has invisibly increased the cost.”
And what about sea transport? “Pakistan pine nuts are generally shipped from Karachi Port to Ningbo Port, Zhejiang. The transportation price is about RMB 17,000 per ton, which is much cheaper than air freight,” Mindong told CEN.
“But in addition to time, we also need to consider the wastage. With thinner skins, Pakistani pine nuts are easily broken or damaged during handling. In addition, we have to process it in advance to remove moisture. Otherwise, the pine nuts in the container will become moldy and deteriorate.
“We have established a plant in Pakistan. After preliminary dehydration processing locally, mildewed and relatively poor quality pine nuts are removed for easier transportation.”
Pakistan: large producer of high-quality pine nuts
Pakistani pine nuts originate from the ‘Chilgoza’ pine forest in northwestern Pakistan, which ranges from 1,800 to 3,350 metres above sea level.
A pine tree takes 20 to 25 years to start bearing fruit, which is why its yield is limited, as the Chinese saying goes, “something must be precious when it is rare.”
Picking pine nuts is an arduous work. Farmers need to go to the pine forest to pick and bag it. The yield of one ‘Chilgoza’ pine is about 3-5 kg.
“Preliminary washing and drying are also essential. We imported machines for washing from China a few years ago, which means a great convenience,” mentioned pine nut picker Altaf Hussain.
After that, China-made machines will help grade these pine nuts. “The grading machine purchased from China can classify the raw pine nuts into three grades – A, B and C, which helps us classify the quality more accurately,” said Zahoor Shah, a Pakistani pine nut trader.
He was echoed by Muhammad Rafique, a Karachi pine nut exporter, who said, “Chinese importers have high requirements, and A-grade products are always the most popular for them. Due to their sharp rise in demand in recent years, the price of pine nuts is also rising year by year, especially those highest quality products.
“I have been in this business for 35 years, from my point of view, Bannu produces one of the best quality pine nuts. About 20% of dealers in Bannu sell all their goods to the Chinese.”
In the 2020-21 production season (July 2020-June 2021), data from the International Nut and Dried Fruit Council (INC) showed that the output of pine nuts in Pakistan reached 2,800 tons, 1.9 times that of the 2019-20 season. Pakistan has become the fifth largest producer of pine nuts in the world.
THE ARTICLE ORIGINALLY APPEARED ON THE CHINA ECONOMIC NET
Published in The Express Tribune, March 22nd, 2022.
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