PAKISTAN’S mango exports to the European Union have suddenly come under the sword of Damocles. Only one lapse could make them meet the fate India has met. Under the changed scenario, mango exports to the bloc are fast shrinking, even up to 70pc (by a latest count) over the last year’s figure, but there are no regrets.
What is important is beating the ban and the EU has already shown the yellow card saying five mango consignments infested with fruit fly would mean an end to further exports. And it also applies to all agricultural produce. The EU has rejected some 200 shipments of mangoes from Pakistan over the last three years.
As a result, now the focus is on quality, not on quantity. And the hot water treatment of mangoes, which the Trade Development Authority has made mandatory, cannot be skipped. The treatment was made mandatory after two mango shipments to EU were found contaminated with fruit flies in June. Under the new process, mangoes go through a thorough cleaning system and treated in hot water at 48°C for about an hour. That process enhances the shelf life of the product by as much as 35 days.
The merit of a plant installed at mango farms is difficult to determine: whether or not they meet the tough EU standards. Farmers Associates Pakistan, however, supports mango farmers, who invested in such projects, to manage the marketing of their hard-earned harvests
But this has given birth to another problem: how to expand hot water treatment facilities in major cities or places close to mango orchards and farms. Such plants, in the past, had hardly attracted exporters and investors for mangoes treated in traditional methods faced no problem. Now there are nine diseases that afflict the king of fruits. At present, there are only three approved plants and all are located in Karachi and some 12 hot water dip plants. However, the EU has approved only the hot water treatment plants.
That makes Punjab, the main producer of mango, feel deprived and the need for a big plant in Lahore should not be delayed. Till then, the exporters from this province will have to travel to Karachi along with their merchandise and after hot treatment do the wrapping, packaging and other formalities.
One of the plants in Karachi, locally manufactured, was inaugurated by the federal minister for food security Sikandar Hayat Khan Bosan on July 1. The minister asked National Agriculture Research Council (NARC) to manufacture 15 to 20 small hot water treatment plants every month over the next three months and distribute them among farmers.
That these small units could be the answer to the problem remains to be seen. A senior engineer of NARC, briefing the participants, stated that the main threat to pest-free export of mangoes has been the absence of required number of hot water treatment plants in the country. Then, the ones located in Karachi are not large enough to meet the demands of all exporters.
However, the situation remains confused in the wake of centre-province tension. The Punjab agriculture officials have accused the Department of Plant Protection (DPP), a subsidiary of the ministry of national food security, of ‘promoting monopoly’ of the Karachi-based plants and ‘lacking interest’ to work in the field with the mango farmers to facilitate exports. The senior officials of the DPP, they say, seem unwilling to allow individual farms which have hot water treatment facility at their farms to export mangoes to EU. This is discouraging further investment in the private sector and also hindering mango exports.
Again, the merit of a plant installed at mango farms is difficult to determine as far as meeting the tough EU standards is concerned. Farmers Associates Pakistan, which represents rich farmers in Punjab, has supported mango farmers who invested in such plants over the last three years to manage the marketing of their hard earned harvests of mango.
The Indian mango ban, which began on May 1 and is due to last until December 2015, came about after the EU had ‘serious concerns’ over mangoes contaminated with non-European fruit flies. The ban includes Alphonso mangoes, eggplant, the taro plant, bitter gourd and snake gourd. The decision came after 207 consignments of fruits and vegetables from India imported into the EU in 2013 were found contaminated by pests.
The UK imports nearly 16m mangoes from India and the market for the fruit is worth nearly 6m pounds sterling a year. India was exporting 40,000 to 50,000 tonnes of mangoes per year to the European Union. Australia has also banned Indian mango. The ban has, however, turned into a controversy not only in India, but in the UK and Europe, with many importers, retailers, and politicians calling it a punitive and over-reactionary measure.
Pakistan has found 11 new markets for its mangoes during the last four to five years. These include South Korea, Australia, Mauritius, Lebanon, Jordan, Iran and China. Pakistan exported about 20,000 to 25,000 tonnes of mangoes to Iran last year under the barter system and exchanged mangoes for apple, grapes, tar and some chemicals.
Published in Dawn, Aug 4th, 2014