After an eight-year hiatus, mango exports from Pakistan crossed the figure of 100,000 tonnes last week and the season, though at the fag end, is by no means over. The next two weeks may add another 10,000 to 15,000 tonnes to the tally if the exporters are to be believed. This would be a healthy sign given the last year’s figure that was around 86,000 tonnes. One should not forget these figures do not include the unofficial trade with Iran, Afghanistan and beyond.
According to the Department of Plant Protection (DPP), which certifies official exports, the figure stood at 101,296 tonnes on September 3. As per the Pakistan Horticulture Development and Export Company (PHDEC), the last time when mango exports crossed the 100,000-mark was 2011-12.
However, the next year in 2013-14, the world, especially the European Union, made hot-water treatment mandatory after intercepting around 196 consignments infested with fruit-fly and threatened to ban exports. Europe led the decline in exports as they dipped to 67,000 tonnes. To the EU alone, exports came down to 4,000 from 30,000 tonnes.
The country then had only two hot-water treatment plants. The next few years saw massive investments flowing into treatment plants and their number has now risen, according to the official count, to 37 and three more are in the process of registration.
An increase in acreage and improvement in farming practices could double production in the next five years
Even Vapour Heat Treatment plants — especially designed by, and exclusively for exports to, Japan — have been set up to serve this high-end market. Together these plants are playing their role in boosting exports and consignments to Europe that have doubled in the last three years. All these steps have cemented the export launch pad and leave everyone involved in the business hopeful.
Signs on the production side are equally positive where farm practices and acreage are improving. This season, the fruit escaped early climatic scares. An extended winter and an early onset of summer, where the temperature suddenly skyrocketed to 47 degree Celsius in the South of Punjab, commonly known as the core mango belt, generated fears of up to a 30 per cent drop in production.
However, the Punjab Crop Reporting wing reported 1.3 million tonnes of production this year against 1.29m tonnes last year. Though the size of the fruit suffered in some areas as a steep rise in temperature forced the crop to mature early, the final figures did not suffer.
Furthermore, expansion of mango cultivation to non-core adjoining areas like Mianwali, Bhakar and other localities spells further good news for the fruit’s cultivation. “Though the shift has not been massive, it is substantial,” says Shakil Ahmad — a mango-grower from the area. More importantly, the trend is there and is expected to gather pace in years to come.
A contributing factor to this trend is the construction of two huge housing schemes — Defence Housing Authorities — at Multan and Bahawalpur which fall right in the middle of the traditional mango area. The shortfall of land in the core area opened a new window for growers in other areas that have the ecological conditions to support mango plantation.
Based on these factors, Waheed Ahmed, Patron-in-Chief of Pakistan Fruit & Vegetable Exporters, Importers and Merchants Association (PFVA), thinks that mango production should double in the next five years.
Along with area under acreage, farm practices are fast improving. For example, timely pruning can double the yield and the majority of farmers are doing this religiously now. Previously, while global practices dictated that the height of a mango tree should not go beyond 12 feet, in Pakistan trees were as high as 40 feet. But now this is changing.
Similarly, the entire production and supply chain is transforming as high tech practices are used and the education of farmer improves, he explained.
Some voices from the other side of the mango belt — starting from Bhimber to Mirpur (Kashmir) right down to Gujrat and Sialkot — are also getting louder in demanding attention for their variety of desi mango.
“This variety is mainly used for local value addition (like pickle) but should be marketed globally as an organic variety,” says Dr Iqrar A Khan — former vice-chancellor of the Agriculture University (Faisalabad), who now heads a university at Mirpur.
Kashmir’s foothills escape frost which is the main threat to mangos. Both topography and sociology favour the fruit as most of the youth from this region resides outside Pakistan and the older ones take care of trees and organically maintain the orchards.
“If the government financially helps develop the cottage industry and small and medium enterprises in this part of Pakistan, this region can also start contributing to foreign mango earnings. Because it is completely organic, the variety could fetch even better prices in the world markets. With production and supply chains in the core belt settling down, the government and exporters need to look beyond the traditional zone,” he suggests.
Published in Dawn, The Business and Finance Weekly, September 9th, 2019