KARACHI, June 3: As the mango season has arrived, mango farmers all over the country hope that their produce will reach consumers in the best possible condition. They just might have found a way of seeing that happen.

This is what a group of mango growers from Rahim Yar Khan have been trying to do — to increase the shelf life of mangoes so that they reach consumers as fresh as they are at the time of picking.

“It’s all part of good agriculture practices [GAP],” said Sardar Mohammad Khan Leghari of Leghari Fruit Farm, who has involved a new technique of processing mangoes that’ll insure the freshest and best quality mangoes for consumers.

“It is not a very new technique and is used in many parts of the world to keep fruit fresh although we engaged expertise in the matter from Australia,” said the mango farmer at a small exhibition of treated mangoes at a local mall here on Sunday.

“The technique and procedure is part of a project called the Mango Value Chain Improvement Project,” he added.

Talking more in depth about the project itself, Sohail Ayaz, the Australian programme’s project development officer, said that their focus is on research in two areas. “We are looking into two areas of interest to mango farmers — post harvest process and domestic and international supply chain improvement,” he said.

There are 10 stages to the process of treating the mangoes. The mangoes are first washed in lime water. “This prevents the black and brown stains that accumulate on the mango skin due to sap juice flowing on it after the fruit has been broken off at the stem. This sap juice acts like acid on mango skin,” said the expert. “We call the washing of the mangoes in lime water de-saping, which apart from stopping the initial stage of rotting also improves the fruit’s cosmetic look,” he added.

“Next comes the sorting, followed by water washing, brush cleaning, hot water dipping [part of EU standard], foam cleaning, hot air drying and grading by weight before blast chilling and cold processing in 12 degrees Celsius. The mangoes are then ripened by being stored in ethylene gas environment,” he explained while saying that this final stage of ripening was very natural as opposed to doing it through calcium carbide.

Asked if the process also involved any strong chemicals, the expert said that there were none involved and it was a very clean and natural process. “In fact,” he added, “this process also does away with the effects of pesticide on the fruit.”Dr Timsun, the project research officer, was also present to document the procedure. “It is a new initiative by mango farmers in Pakistan to increase the shelf life of their produce,” he observed.

“You all in Karachi are used to eating fresh mangoes grown in Sindh. But most mangoes are grown in Punjab, and especially in Rahim Yar Khan where you find mango orchards spread over 70,000 acres of land,” provided Sardar Mohammad Khan Leghari whose own farm is located in the village Rahimabad in Tehsil Sadiqabad.

“The shelf life of mangoes after picking is only about six days. So by the time the mangoes picked in Punjab or any other area in Pakistan reach consumers in far-off places, they have pretty much lost their freshness. The wrinkled skin shows the first signs of aging,” explained Leghari. “It’s the same with mangoes grown in Sindh that reach Punjab a few days after being picked,” he pointed out. “But the new process will see to it that mangoes produced here are preserved for up to almost a month without losing any of its quality in order for them to be consumed in the domestic as well as international market,” he said.

Asked if the process would mean an increase in costs, the trader said that it had never been their motive. “Though we have tried keeping costs the same, at the maximum you can expect a 10 per cent addition in the cost of treated mangoes but that, too, would only be due to their packaging as the process itself is not expensive at all,” he explained.

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