How Pakistan breaks Afghan pine nuts sales miracle in China?

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The price of half a kilogram of Pakistani pine nuts in China can be as high as RMB 140 (about Rs 4,360), which is at the upper end of the so-called “chain of contempt” of nuts in China. Meanwhile, Pakistani people can buy 40 kilograms of flour with this sum of money, which is enough for a family of five for nearly a month.

Pakistani pine forests grow in valleys at an altitude of 2,000-3,350 meters in the mountainous areas of western Pakistan on the border with Afghanistan. Sulaiman range of Balochistan, Sherani and Chitral in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KPK) and Diamer in Gilgit-Baltistan are Pakistan’s main production regions for pine nuts.

A farmer in Diamer said that 200,000 to 250,000 people are engaged in the pine nut business here and every household earns income from pine nuts.

According to the official data of the General Administration of Customs of China (GACC), in the first nine months of 2022, Pakistan’s exports of pine nuts in shell (HS: 08029100) to China amounted to USD 47.69 million, over five times the USD 9.5 million export of fresh or dried nuts (HS: 0802 – fresh or dried nuts) to China in 2018.

“Pakistani pine nut exports have huge potential for locals to earn a living and get rich,” said Faisal Ahsan Pirzada, Secretary of Forest, Wildlife and Environment Department, Gilgit-Baltistan, in an interview with China Economic Net (CEN).

Haji Ghullam Mehmood from Chilas Pine Nut Market agreed and said, “Pakistan has gone into crisis. The money earned by pine nuts export is settled in US dollars, which is beneficial for Pakistan.”

Who cuts down the “money tree” that generates huge profit each year?

As for the reason behind cutting down the “money tree”, which is a gift of nature, Raja Zakirya Khan Maqpoon, Senior Minister of Gilgit-Baltistan, told CEN that cutting down pine trees must be stopped in underdeveloped areas like Diamer, as forests are their only source of income.

“There must be a strict ban on cutting down pine trees. Instead of being poor, the locals who are blessed with natural resources can feed their children if they are trained with appropriate professional skills,” Faisal Ahsan Pirzada added.

“Ninety percent of the people here are unemployed. The Chilas region has a revenue of Rs 5-6 billion (about RMB 160 million),” said Saif ullah, a pine nut dealer and exporter from Chilas.

There is another reason for cutting down pine trees. Seth Azeem Shah, from Chilas, one of Pakistan’s main production areas of pine nuts, has been trading in pine nuts since the year 2,000, more than 20 years ago. According to him, in 2017, there were still 2,000 tons of pine nuts being produced in Chilas. Then some elite Pakistanis spotted the business opportunity and started hiring laborers from other areas to pick them. Due to the high workload, the workers were willing to cut down the entire tree to get the job done quickly. These workers are not from Chilas, so they only care about their own income, not tree protection. Currently, less than 1,000 tons are produced in Chilas.”

In addition, how to pick pine cones also affects the production of pine nuts. Faisal Ahsan Pirzada said that if people collect pine cones by hand improperly, it can harm the yield of next year.

Pine forest protection has started in some regions. “The UN FAO project in Diamer will increase the area of pine forests. Now the forest area in Diamer has expanded to 15,000 hectares,” said Naimat Gul, who works in the project.