Mastuj people get solar-powered dehydration plants to preserve fruit

CHITRAL: The people of Mastuj town have been provided with solar-powered dehydration plants for preserving fresh fruits, enabling the poverty-stricken farmers to increase their incomes.

Talking to media persons, chairman of Qarambar and Shandur Area Development Organisation (QASADO), Syed Saadat Jan said for want of dehydration facility, technical guidance, packaging and marketing, more than 60 per cent of fresh fruit of apricot, white mulberry, wild cherry, pear and apple got wasted as the surplus quantity was fed to animals.

He said the project was launched with the financial assistance of Small Grant and Ambassador’s Fund Programme of USAID under which 54 plants were provided in different localities and the women were imparted extensive training on different processes of fruit preservation ranging from harvesting to dehydration and packaging.

Mr Jan said Mastuj town was known for its fabulous apricot, white mulberry, pear and apple, adding QASADO helped in the products’ preservation and value addition. He said that the project also envisaged engagement of women in the process by hiring the services of food technologists and agriculturists.

He said the fruits dried in the customary way by exposing them to direct sunlight lost their pleasant charm, taste and brittleness due to which the commodity found no place in the market.

Nusrat Jabeen, who is getting training under the project, said she used to feed a large amount of apricots and apples grown in her orchards to her cows, but this year, she preserved 100 per cent of the produce with the help of the dehydration plant.

She said women from every household were imparted training on processing of fruits and operation of the plant, and on how to ensure hygiene during the whole process. “The fruit processing on modern lines will lead to financial empowerment of women,” she said.

Ms Jabeen pointed out a body with the name of Shandur Businesswomen Association Mastuj had been formed to represent the women involved in the field of dried fruits and handicrafts to enhance their entrepreneurial skills.

Nazim of Khoozh village council, Noor Ajam, said as per a survey conducted last year, only a fraction of households dried the fresh fruit and that there was no marketing facility available in the area to sell the fresh fruits.

He said connection of the farmers and growers with the local and national market was yet another outcome of the project.

US Secretary Kerry proposes ‘two-state theory’ for peace between Israel, Palestinians

US Secretary of State John Kerry insisted on Wednesday that Israel and a future Palestine should live as two states based on the territory they held before the 1967 Six Day War.

Kerry, in a major speech on the frozen Middle East peace process, said “equivalent swaps” of land could happen to modify the border, but only by mutual consent.

Jerusalem, he argued, should be recognised as the capital of both states and those countries that do not recognise Israel as a Jewish state should do so.

“It is up to Israelis and Palestinians to make the difficult choices for peace but we can all help,” he said, laying out the United States recommendations for reviving the peace effort.

John Kerry delivers remarks on Middle East peace at the Department of State. —Reuters
John Kerry delivers remarks on Middle East peace at the Department of State. —Reuters

In a speech just weeks before the Obama administration hands over power to President-elect Donald Trump, Kerry said Israel “will never have true peace” with the Arab world if it does not reach an accord based on Israelis and Palestinians living in their own states.

“Despite our best efforts over the years, the two-state solution is now in serious jeopardy,” Kerry said at the State Department. “We cannot, in good conscience, do nothing, and say nothing, when we see the hope of peace slipping away.”

Kerry speech ‘skewed against Israel’: Netanyahu

Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called a major speech by John Kerry on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict on Wednesday “skewed against Israel”.

“Like the Security Council resolution that Secretary Kerry advanced in the UN, his speech tonight was skewed against Israel,” a statement from Netanyahu’s office said.

“For over an hour, Kerry obsessively dealt with settlements and barely touched upon the root of the conflict — Palestinian opposition to a Jewish state in any boundaries.”

Cabinet committee allows export of 225,000 tonnes of sugar

ISLAMABAD: The Economic Coordination Committee (ECC) of the Cabinet on Wednesday allowed export of 225,000 tonnes of sugar, based on estimates that there would be a surplus of 1.23 million tonnes.

However, only those mills will be allowed exports which have cleared all outstanding dues of farmers from the last season, and which have started crushing at full capacity.

According to final estimates of provincial agricultural departments, the countrywide sugarcane production in 2015-16 stood at 65.5m tonnes, 3.9 per cent less than the production target fixed by the Federal Committee for Agriculture. The decline was due to a 0.7pc fall in the size of area under cultivation and a 2.9pc drop in yield.

Sugarcane provides raw material to the sugar industry, which is the second-largest agro-based industry having 88 mills across the country.

It was also decided in the ECC meeting, chaired by Finance Minister Ishaq Dar, that the Ministry of Commerce would ensure there are adequate checks and balances to maintain price stability in the domestic market.

Extends reduced rate of bank transaction tax rate at 0.4pc for three more months

In case the domestic price stability is disturbed, the commerce ministry would submit a summary to the ECC to consider suspending sugar exports.

Unlike previous years, it was decided that there will be no freight or export rebate payable by the government to sugar exporters on such exports.

The ECC approved a proposal of the Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Resources regarding the allocation of an additional 50 million cubic feet per day (mmcfd) of available gas to the Guddu Thermal Power Plant from Habib Rahi Limestone reservoir. However, the approval is subject to installation of compression plant by the power plant.

Allocation of an additional 26mmcfd of available gas from the reservoir to Engro Fertilisers’ old plant was also approved for the continuation of the plant.

Moreover, the existing reduced withholding tax rate of 0.4pc on bank transactions for non-filers of income tax returns has also been extended for three months (to March 31) by the ECC on the recommendation of the Federal Board of Revenue. The extension period was due to expire on Jan 1 (Sunday).

The finance division informed the ECC that State Bank’s principal debt amounting to Rs54.46 billion outstanding against the Zarai Taraqiati Bank, as of Dec 31, 2015, was being converted into redeemable preference shares carrying a profit of 7.5pc a year. The shares are redeemable in 10 years in one bullet payment on Dec 31, 2025.

In this regard, the ECC approved the issuance of a guarantee of Rs54.460 billion by the government of Pakistan in favour of the State Bank for principal debt of the preference shares and returns thereon.

Smith scores hundred before play halted against Pakistan

Skipper Steve Smith scored his 17th Test century just before bad light and rain stopped play on day four of the second Test against Pakistan in Melbourne on Thursday.

Smith was 100 not out with Mitchell Starc on seven and Australia 465 for six to hold a lead of 22 runs. Storm clouds were gathering and the Melbourne Cricket Ground wicket square was covered shortly before tea.

Australia added 117 runs off 34 overs in the extended morning session and were poised to take the lead during the afternoon.

Usman Khawaja was dismissed on 97 for the second time this season when he played away from his body and edged Wahab Riaz to wicketkeeper Sarfraz Ahmed.

He faced 12 balls for two runs Thursday before he was out in the day’s fifth over and left the ground with his head bowed.

Khawaja also missed out on a century against South Africa in the second innings of last month’s first Test in Perth.

Peter Handscomb claimed his third half-century in his three Tests to push along the Australia scoring. He was dropped off a sharp caught-and-bowled chance by Mohammad Amir on 51, but three runs later he found Sami Aslam at point off Sohail Khan.

Handscomb, playing on his home pitch, added 92 runs with Smith off 141 balls.

Nic Maddinson, under pressure after scores of 0, 1 and 4 in his three Test innings, looked composed during the 20 balls he faced before lunch.

Paceman Riaz continued to have problems bowling no-balls and has overstepped 12 times in the 23 overs he has bowled so far.

Hundreds of Tirah IDPs still await return plan

LANDI KOTAL: Authorities are yet to announce any plan for repatriation of hundreds of displaced families of Tirah valley in Khyber Agency though the federal government and Fata Disaster Management Authority had earlier announced that all internally displaced persons of Fata would be sent back to their homes till the end of this year.

Sources in Jamrud told this correspondent that around 1,800 Kukikhel families were even denied registration since their displacement in 2012 from areas in Tirah close to the Afghan border. They said that not a single family from the region had returned since the start of repatriation of Tirah IDPs in 2014 nor were they provided any assistance.

Officials of the political administration said that the Kukikhel areas were yet to be de-notified by the security forces despite the announcement of end of the Khyber-2 ground operations in the region early this year.

Khyber officials say Kukikhel areas yet to be de-notified

While militants make their presence felt in the Kukikhel high regions, some 1,200 Bar Qambarkhel families are desperate to return to their homes as they have been assured on a number of occasions that the area which has a common border with Kurram tribal region had been cleared of militants long ago.

The FDMA had suspended the monthly ration of Bar Qambarkhel families belonging to Jutt Dara, Owch Naw, Tajju and Yagu Mela in start of the year. Afterwards, it closed down the New Durrani Camp near Sadda in Kurram Agency where most of the Bar Qambarkhel people were residing after most of these families were issued Voluntary Returns Forms (VRF).

Wajid Khan, a spokesman for the affected families, told Dawn by phone from Kurram Agency that no one had given them any specific reason for the persistent delay in their return. “We have knocked at almost every door to get a go-ahead for our return, but nobody gave us a satisfactory answer,” Wajid Khan said.

He alleged that the government had expelled them from New Durrani Camp without making any alternative arrangements of living for over 1,000 families.

“We were displaced three times; first from Tirah due to militancy, then from rented houses to Durrani camp; and finally from the camp this year,” an aggrieved Khan said while lamenting that all the official assistance had been suspended after they were issued VRFs.

Wajid Khan along with some of his co-tribesmen had also conducted secret visits of their area and told this scribe that a large number of their houses had been affected due to rains and snowfall during the last four years of their displacement. He claimed that household items had been stolen from their houses. He also accused some neighbouring Kurram tribes of unlawfully cutting forests in Jutt Dara and adjoining areas.

He said that with no positive response from the official quarters the Bar Qambarkhel IDPs would stage protest demonstrations both in front of the Governor House and Khyber House in Peshawar on Tuesday (Dec 27).