A case of mediocre mangoes


— Photo by author.
— Photo by author.

Climate changes have continuously taken their toll on Pakistan over the last few years – whether it’s an increase in flooding or a change in weather patterns.

As a result, mango lovers are still waiting for the arrival of this year’s full-fledged mango crop in the market, which has been delayed because of changes in weather patterns.

Stakeholders believe that Sindh would have come up with a larger mango crop had weather conditions not been erratic. An overall 20 percent drop in production is likely due to the late maturation of the fruit and hailstorms.

Early varieties of mango like Almas, Saroli and Daseri are slowly reaching the market but mango afficiniados are still anxiously waiting for the seasonal favourite ‘Sindhri’ –according to market players they will have to wait for another one week or so.

Southern winds that usually visit orchards in early March didn’t come on time, and when they finally did the fruit’s size had already been affected. Hailstorms caused damage to the crop particularly in Mirpurkhas region, which was the main path of the storm.

Sindhri, which is an exportable variety like ‘Chaunsa’, has an edge over other varieties because of its look and taste. Chaunsa has similar characteristics too but it follows Sindhri towards the end of the mango season in Sindh. Sindhri is widely used as a ‘gift’ in different circles extending from the civil bureaucracy, to the police, politicians and the ‘common man’.

“Such weather conditions are not conducive for the mango’s development. Mangoes need the summer season to have a rapid growth in all respects,” says Atta Soomro, Director General Agriculture Research. He adds that not only the flushing of trees at the wrong time also negatively impacted the fruit’s production.

Officials in the Pakistan Horticulture Development and Export Board (PHDEB) say that it was due to a delay in crop’s arrival that its export began on May 25 this year, although it usually begins by May 20.

But exporters remain optimistic. According to PHDEB General Manager South Abdul Razaq Malkana, given the size of crop the PHDEB is optimistic to export around 120,000 tons of mango or so against last year’s 107,000 tons as around 400 to 500 tons alone will be exported to Korea.

He added that the production of medium sized mangoes is likely to dominate the market and such medium sized fruit is the most sought after abroad.

Pakistan’s total mango production reaches 1.7 to 1.8 million tons annually with the lion’s share coming from Punjab and 30 percent from Sindh. According to 2011-12 statistics of the Sindh Horticulture Research Institute (SHRI), Mirpurkhas is considered home to mango farming, although it takes place in Tando Allahyar and Sanghar as well.

The orchards which are mostly located in the lower Sindh region on the left bank of River Indus were badly affected during heavy monsoon rains. Since rainwater accumulated in orchards it raised the water table substantially, badly affecting the texture of land. Such changes in the soil’s texture are considered one of the reasons for the belated flowering of the plant.

According to traders – who get orchards on contracts from actual farm owners – currently varieties of Saroli and Daseri are being brought to the market. According to one such trader, Aslam, “Although the unripe Sindhri is reaching the market, it lacks taste and wholesalers use calcium carbide to ripen it.” He believes that if production of mangoes drops substantially, then price margins will increase – but in case of a large number of exports because of oversupply, prices will fall.

Inferior farming methods

Few farmers are interested in exporting to European countries, and using sophisticated procedures to take care of their orchards – most farmers outsource their farms to contractors for two to five years under an agreement. After that, it’s the contractor’s headache to look after orchards. Some estimates obtained through farmers and contractors indicate that millions are invested in this business. If a 200 acre orchard is let out for Rs100,000 per acre, then it means an amount of Rs20 million will change hands. A single contractor handles a multiple numbers of farms.

“Growers do not manage mango orchards on their own. They are not ready to wait for one year and handle the crop properly. This is the general mindset among our mango growers,” says Imdad Nizamani, a farmer from Tando Allahyar. He believes that farm owners also feel that since there are certain varieties which give fruit on a rotational basis, they’re better off outsourcing the farms to earn money. Nizamani says he will not be surprised if production drops by 25 to 30 per cent this year.

A trend, however, seems to be slowly emerging among farmers who are showing an inclination towards progressive farming and are keen to export the fruit to high-end supermarkets in Europe and other regions themselves instead of relying on conventional exporters. They are being encouraged to opt for ‘progressive’ mango farming if they want to fetch a better price for their crop. More technical methods for farming are being used as a result, such as ‘high density mango farming’ which controls the space between and height of mango trees. Perhaps a focus on such methods could help counter the fears of a declining mango crop in the long run.