A mature crop of mangoes is yet to be fully available in the market amidst reports of substantial decline in production — mainly in sindhri variety — apparently due to climate change-driven variations in weather. Extended winter, unusual summer rains, winds and hailstorms are factors that adversely affected the crop.
But there is good news as well. Mangoes have started gaining lost ground in lower Sindh as growers who had done away with orchards have taken interest in farming the ‘king of fruit’ again.
Up until five to six years ago, growers had switched to other crops. Although the trend of re-cultivation is slow, it is constant. This will eventually contribute to higher mango production in the long run.
In the short to medium term, the mango crop is facing a host of challenges. A team of the Mirpurkhas-based Sindh Horticulture Research Institute assessed around 25-30 per cent drop in crop production in its 2019’s annual survey.
Agriculture department figures show that a loss of 30-40pc in sindhri variety is to be seen on account of an extended winter, powdery mildew and back to back windstorms.
Mangoes have started gaining lost ground in lower Sindh as growers who had done away with orchards have taken interest in farming the ‘king of fruit’ again
Drop in production was seen last year as well but it was attributable to water shortage. While water flows this year remained better as compared to same period last year, variations in temperature impacted the crop negatively.
Progressive mango growers like Umer Bughio, Sarwar Abro, Imdad Nizamani and Nadeem Shah agree with these assessments.
Mr Nizamani is a veteran mango grower managing a 120-acre farm in Tando Allahyar. “Winter’s effect on banana leaves is a major indicator of mango crop performance. If banana leaves are not burnt due an extended winder, it means the mango crop will not do well,” he said.
An extended winter, with mercury dropping below 3-4 Celsius for a fortnight, benefits mangoes. Such conditions stimulate the carbohydrates process in trees which tends to have a positive bearing on the fruit.
Mr Nizamani said that the sindhri variety will face a decline this season as evident from the impact of weather on the crop grown in his farm.
“Those who have fresh groundwater reserves like me are better off in terms of water supply for orchards”, said Mr Abro, who owns a 300-acre mango farm in Thatta. However, he conceded that temperature had left an impact but hoped that better management would pay him dividends.
Mr Abro’s friend and a progressive grower-cum-exporter, Mahmood Nawaz Shah, differed with the estimates of a 30pc drop in production. He said that the decline is more likely to be around 10pc or so.
Although climatic conditions didn’t support mangoes, water flows remained available, barring tail-end areas of barrages which have become a perennial problem.
During February-April, trees come out of dormancy and are poised for water flows. Luckily, this year orchards got sufficient water supplies during this crucial phase, unlike last year.
Delayed crop: Several weather patterns resulted in a delayed crop. Variations in temperature led to unwanted flushing (growth of new leaves) and flowering. This resulted in fruit settings twice, said some growers.
Furthermore, back to back windstorms, hailstorms and unusual summer rains caused shedding of unripe mangoes.
Orchard owners usually pick mangoes by late April or early May. By May’s third week sindhri becomes available in retail markets. However, it is a missing phenomenon these days. It is expected that sindhri will reach markets by June’s first week, at the tail-end of Ramazan.
Referring to initial business transactions, Mahmood Shah said that an 8-9kg bag of sindhri is sold for Rs700-800 and a 13-14kg bag for Rs1,100.
Similarly, a 13-14kg bag of saroli and daseri was sold for Rs500-600 which was Rs800-900 last year due to lesser production. This indicates that prices are stable because the crop’s size is satisfactory this year, he said.
New orchards: Earlier, declining profitability, damages to farms after 2011’s devastating rains, better prospects in other crops and water-logging in lands had compelled growers to switch away from mangoes. But growers are opting for mango crops again.
This is in part because other crops did not yield the expected higher benefits. Price row of sugar cane and inadequate rate for cotton by ginners persuaded growers to turn back towards mango production.
“Yes, mango growers have shown a tendency over the last few years to grow orchards again. With better quality standards, mango’s export prospects have improved as well,” said Mr Bughio.
Of his 300-acres land, he had cleared away 200 acres of mango trees after the 2011 rains in Mirphurkhas — home of mango production. Mr Bughio re-planted 100 acres of his land with mango trees over the last couple of years.
“Lining of Jamrao and other minor channels has overcome water-logging in Mirpurkhas which has encouraged me to switch over to mango production again,” he said.
Nadeem Shah has diverted his attention to mangoes also. His two new mango farms stretch over 13 acres and 40 acres. He had put an end to mango farming on 60-acres in Tando Allahyar after damages by 2011 rains.
His 13-acre orchard, grown in 2012, is bearing fruits while the 40-acres farm will take some time to start production.
However, figures by Sindh’s agriculture department paint a different picture. Mango orchards in production phase stood at 146,163 acres in 2018 compared to 153,359 acres in 2017. Similarly, production declined from 400,483 in 2017 to 387,884 metric tonnes in 2018.
Published in Dawn, The Business and Finance Weekly, May 27th, 2019