Hundreds of mango trees — some of them 50 or 100 years of age — stand tall on a land that stretches over 280 acres called Rahuki Farms in Sindh’s district Hyderabad.
The trees sport five varieties of mangoes: Ratol, Daseri, Langrra, Sindhrri and Chaunsa.
The owner of Rahuki Farms, Tofiq Pasha Mooraj, has been looking after the mango farms for the last 12 years. Like many other mango growers of Sindh, he is concerned about the hazardous impacts of climate change on mangoes.
For Mooraj, the effects of climate change, such as fluctuating temperatures, including uncertain rains and hailstorms, have been far and wide, impacting the growth of mangoes.
“Seasons lie at the heart of any crop being cultivated,” says Mooraj. “Even hours of days and nights are reckoned among many essential factors that play an integral part in a crop’s growth and production. Many crops [fruits] are cultivated in winter and get ready for harvest in summer. The mango’s cultivation season starts at the tail end of the winter and the fruit gets ripe in the early months of summer.”
Depending on the variety and seasonal suitability, mango harvesting occurs in three phases. Starting in mid-April or early May, the three phases continue until August.
“In Punjab, the early mango varieties include Saroli, Malda, Langrra and Daseri,” says a southern Punjab mango grower, Shahid Hameed Bhutta. “The second phase, starting from July, first includes varieties such as the summer Chaunsa followed by late Chaunsa, then Nawabpuri Chaunsa (known as Sufaid or white Chaunsa) followed by 12-number Ratol, then Chenab Gold, and finally the season ends on Azeem Chaunsa.”
Mangoes — the second largest fruit produce in Pakistan — suffered a 60 percent decline in production last year. What is causing this and can anything be done to mitigate this devastation?
Given the crucial phase of the mango-growing season, the shared trouble for both Mooraj and Bhutta is unstable and unpredictable temperatures.
THE PROBLEM WITH TEMPERATURES
Temperature is crucial for growing any crop. Over the past decade, temperatures around the world have been on a constant rise. Fluctuating temperatures have also caused seasonal changes, which have adversely affected crop production. Mango-growers in both Sindh and Punjab are not immune to these struggles.
The journey of mangoes, from their nascent flowers to morphing into delightful fruits, is treacherous, now marked by numerous hurdles posed by climate change.
Mango cultivation requires cool and dry conditions. Favourable temperatures for a quality mango yield must range from 23 to 33 degrees Celsius.
The year 2022 was not a favourable year for mangoes in Pakistan. The year witnessed severe flooding and skin-blistering heatwaves that pushed temperatures to hit more than 40 degrees on the Celsius scale, leaving the month of March — the most crucial month in terms of mango cultivation — not being favourable for the development of the fruit.
This led to a significant decline in mango production. Production went down by almost 60 percent, as claimed by the director of Multan’s Mango Research Institute (MRI), Abdul Ghaffar Garewal.
“Temperatures are instrumental to the survival of mangoes,” says Mooraj, adding: “A moderate temperature [30-33 degree Celsius] is a healthy signal for mangoes, but mercury dipping down or abruptly crossing the threshold turns out to be invasive. The temperature, particularly the rising one, leads to the adaptability of many pests that cash in the favourable temperatures to breed as fast as they can grow. Such temperatures turn out to be a hotbed for pests, particularly for the mango-hopper, and their attack is invasive and devastating.”
Over the past decade, temperatures around the world have been on a constant rise. Fluctuating temperatures have also caused seasonal changes, which have adversely affected crop production. Mango-growers in both Sindh and Punjab are not immune to these struggles.
Researchers identify this model as the ‘insect pest-crop correlation’. Temperatures affect the insect’s physiology, giving their metabolic process an impetus and resulting in an increase in consumption. Finally, this leads to an increase in their population densities. Resultantly, crop injury and damage are greater, with crop yield being the ultimate victim.
The vice president of the Sindh Abadgar Board, Mahmood Nawaz Shah, has been observing climate change patterns. “We have observed an increase in extreme climate events,” he tells Eos. “If these events are observed during the early flowering stage, they can be extremely destructive for the mangoes. In the fruiting stage, these events can cause further damage. With unstable climatic behaviours, pest attacks also intensify.”
According to Shah, pest invasions have been there for a long time, but they have been growing more severe owing to climate change. One of the ailments impacting the mangoes, he says, is malformation.
“The disease needs an early, albeit aggressive, response to eradicate it completely,” he adds. “This is a contagious disease that affects all mango trees alike. It affects mango leaves, shoots and flowers, leading to an abnormal growth of the tree. To cope with malformation, farmers need more labour and cost. This approach is costly.”
While high temperatures are at the core of the issue for Mooraj and Bhutta, in some regions rising temperatures can also be beneficial, since they work as a natural defence line against pest attacks.
“Temperatures impact the size, texture and quality of the mangoes, but heatwaves, along with loo [hot winds] can also work as natural defenders, killing the pests. This was true of the mangoes here [in Muzaffargarh],” shares Bhutta.
THE FUTURE OF MANGOES
How to cope with climate change and its impacts is a million-dollar question. In Pakistan’s context, sustainable agriculture practices are not yet in sight. At the local level, there are multiple issues that need to be taken into consideration.
First, the government needs to take responsibility to support the farmers. With the country’s economy going down the drain, the soaring electricity tariffs, along with a sharp increase in the prices of pesticides, have played a central role.
“Sustainability is a buzzword everyone uses today,” says economist and climate change expert Dr Parvez Rahim. “While it is good in theory, it is very hard to implement. Pakistan’s soaring inflation rate is 40 percent currently, and the cost of production makes sustainability impossible.
“The first issue is electricity. With this level of electricity [prices], no farmer can ensure sustainability in agriculture. Second is the price of fuels, and the third is the price of fertilisers and pesticides, and seeds. These three inputs make agriculture unsustainable. What is pitching in is climate change, which is manifesting itself in such a way that it is making agriculture a non-profitable business.”
According to Dr Rahim, smart agriculture is the concept to follow.
“Smart agriculture is based on economic needs, based on what the country’s requirements are, and based on the export potential. Pakistani farmers cannot do this alone,” he adds. “We need to build partnerships with the international community. As far as the mango is concerned, it sustains high temperatures, but not abrupt up and down in temperatures.”
Mahmood Nawaz Shah, on the other hand, has developed some indigenous yet short-term solutions for saving his mangoes from climatic effects. Shah has started planting mango trees closely.
“Strong winds, along with rising temperatures, remain a devastating issue too,” explains Shah. “Growing trees closely, leaving only a narrow space in between them mitigates wind effects. To cope with pest invasions, we have decided to wrap the fruits in bags, to reduce pest bites and malformation. But on a wider scale, this strategy is costly.”
Pakistan is the sixth largest mango-growing country in the world. The area under mango cultivation in Pakistan is approximately 169,000 hectares, with a total production of 1.7 million tonnes, which makes mango the second largest fruit crop in the country. Along with all the other contributing factors, climate change and its impact is growing each passing year.
However, in March this year, the temperature remained suitable between 23 and 33 degrees Celsius and early rains washed away pests, leaving mangoes in a better condition.
How destructive would the effects of temperatures, floods, rains and hailstorms be next year? Having no long-term solutions in hand, the farmers, before the start of each year, remain at the mercy of prayers.
The writer is a member of staff.
He tweets at @Ayaz_Jurno
Published in Dawn, EOS, July 2nd, 2023