Snags in mango exports

Published May 13, 2013 03:33am

ENCOURAGED by reports of higher mango yield estimates this year, exporters are preparing to meet the target of 175,000 tonnes. Exports have been allowed from 25th of this month.

Initial estimates indicate that total production this year is 1.55 million tonnes, up from one million tonnes last year. So exporters are confident of achieving the $60-million target. However, for this to happen, it is important that they penetrate deeper into the Middle Eastern markets and reach out to half a dozen others with renewed vigour.

Chairman of All Pakistan Fruit and Vegetable Association Waheed Ahmed says that exporters will try to send sizable shipments of mangoes to Australia, Japan, Lebanon, Mauritius and the US. Besides, exports to GCC countries — UAE, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman and Qatar — will also remain under focus, though some issues, like shelf-life of fruits and affordable air freights, will have to be resolved.

Meanwhile, exports to neighbouring Iran, which is under US sanctions, will have to be revived through diplomatic efforts. Smuggling of mangoes through land routes to Iran has increased manifold after suspension of regular exports.

Exporters say the ministry of commerce should take up the issue of mango exports to Iran pointing out that whereas Pakistan’s fruit exports were suspended last year on fears that they could be seen as violation of US sanctions, India continued to export mangoes to Iran.

Growers and exporters say Pakistani mangoes are recognised world over as far more delicious and aromatic than Indian mangoes. “If this advantage is exploited, mango exports can be raised to new levels every year,” says a Karachi-based exporter Muhammad Ali Memon.

“In Saudi Arabia and UAE where millions of Pakistanis and Indians live, we’ve seen many Indian families buying Pakistani mangoes,” says Syed Shamsuddin, a Pakistani supplier of food items to hotels in Makkah, currently in Karachi on a business trip.

“Pakistani mangoes in 10-kg packing sell for about 30-60 Saudi riyals depending upon the variety. They are sold out at retail chain stores and in hotels in no time, and often a delay in arrival of fresh consignments creates room for Indian mangoes to capture the market,” Shamsuddin.

Inconsistent supply has created space for Indian mangoes in the UAE and other GCC countries as well, and at the root of the problem is that PIA normally does not run dedicated freight flights as they do not generate justifiable revenues. However, since last year, PIA has been allocating more space for fruit cargoes.

Exports of mangoes this year may see some change in that a giant food processing company and a chain of retail stores are readying themselves to enter this sector. Their officials say they have been in negotiations with major retail outlets in the UK, a few other European countries, Saudi Arabia and the UAE to make big supplies of quality mangoes that are in high demand.

Locally, arrangements have been made to ensure that these new exporters will purchase bulk quantity of mangoes from growers on the same pattern they collect milk from dairy farmers and, then after hygienic packaging, export the fruits.

“But of course everything will be on a limited scale this year, sort of a pilot project,” an official of one of the two mango exporters told Dawn. This will also ultimately weaken the culture of pre-crop auctions of the entire produce of a mango orchard by small fruit farm owners to wealthy investors.

“We have been doing this because of our financial problems,” says Syed Murshid Ali, a small fruit farm owner in the outskirts of Karachi. “But over the years, our status has been reduced to working hands for big landlords who are behind all this investment game.

They have elbowed out small farm owners and now a handful of them have actual access to mangoes grown in any particular area and they are the price setters now,” Ali told Dawn.

Whereas most exporters are optimistic of meeting mangoes exports target of 175,000 tonnes, their optimism is largely rooted in the fact that Pakistani mangoes are better and that the country has a ready market for its fruits in some 40 plus countries. But they are also aware of the challenges they face in important, new markets like the US.

Chairman PFVA Waheed Ahmed points out that Pakistani mangoes are supposed to be tested first at a Chicago-based radiation treatment plant before they are supplied to American buyers.

This handicap can severely hit export volumes. Ahmad says he has long been demanding that two radiation treatment plants be set up, one in Karachi and the other in Multan to improve the potential of mangoes exports up to $10 million to the US markets.

On the brighter side, this year, exports of mangoes to Japan would become easier as exporters have now the facility for vapour heat treatment of the fruits, which is a must for exporting mangoes to Japanese buyers. A VHT plant donated by Japan would be used for this purpose.

Exporters are also hopeful that exports to Australia would rise as there is possibility for pre-export clearance of larger volumes because after recent visits of the Australian officials to major orchards and mango processing facilities. But officially, a clean chit is yet to come. — Mohiuddin Aazim

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