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Late mango harvesting

ALTHOUGH mango picking has started in areas like Umerkot, the crop arrival in market has been delayed this year. Mango orchards mostly in lower Sindh region and particularly in Mirpurkhas division have suffered damages from heavy rains.

A veteran commission agent, Ghulam Hussain, says that mango varieties like ‘Saroli’ and ‘Daseri’ normally start hitting market by late April or first week of May. “But this is not the case this season. The first week of May has passed and neither of the two varieties has arrived in the market. I have witnessed orchards in Kisano Mori, Tandojam and Tando Allahyar, the conditions there more or less remain the same as regards the fruit size and quality. It is all due to changing weather conditions,” says Hussain.

“Fruit has not fully developed so far due to temperature variations. Hot winds play crucial role in developing fruit’s size. But it has not happened yet. I think ‘Sindhri’ will be harvested in the third week of May,” he says.

This year the extended winter was a major factor in overall crop size formation. The temperature required for mango wasn’t there even in April, instead there were unusual rains. It was only in last week of April that mercury started rising.

Mango orchards in Sindh are located on 51,000 hectares which produce around 379,000 metric tons of the fruit per annum.

Mirpurkhas division is famous for ‘Sindhri’ – the most popular of all varieties. ‘Sindhri’ orchards are located in areas that lack proper drainage system. Because of unprecedented rains, five to six feet of rainwater mixed with saline water remained standing in some places in these orchards for three months, causing severe damage to the trees.

In one case alone in Mirpurkhas district, an orchard owner Qazi Faizullah says he had to do away with his 30-year-old mango orchard on 100 acres in Tando Jan Mohammad area. “I had no option but to cut the trees on 100 acres out of my 200 acres orchard. Now I am preparing the land for some other crop,” he says as he points to his mango farm where barely a dozen or so trees now stand. He believes that these too would not survive.

By the time, the farmers were able to drain out rainwater from their orchard on their own or through government’s assistance the damage had been done. Rainwater is still standing in areas like Kunri of Umerkot on thousands of acres converting farmlands into virtual lakes. Many farmers are striving to drain out rainwater to sow some crops after having lost their Rabi crop.

Sindh Horticulture Research Institute Director Dr Atta Memon reckons that 25 per cent of orchards in Umerkot, Sanghar, Mirpurkhas districts and part of Tando Allahyar in lower Sindh have been destroyed whereas those in Hyderabad and Matiari remained safe. “Increased level of sub-soil water in root zone of trees is harming them,” he says. Not only this, the temperature variation would affect the development and growth of fruit, he adds.

“Orchards have been hit by frost too. This year the average minimum temperature in February was recorded at five degrees centigrade which normally remains at nine degrees centigrade. On February 8, mercury dropped to minus two degree astonishingly,” he recalls.

February and March remained unexpectedly cold and temperature varied between 20 and 25 degrees centigrade. Normally it remains somewhere at 35 degrees in March to benefit the fruit,” he says. “This time round mangoes are not in good shape,” he remarks.

Unusual weather conditions damaged florescence and subsequently fruit development. The trees are flushing new leaves and it would harm the fruit as nutrients would get diverted to leaves instead of fruit and harm fruit growth. In mango-growing areas mercury start touching 45 degree Celsius in April but this year it was just 37 degrees.

A progressive mango farmer Imdad Nizamani agrees to Dr Soomro’s view that climatic conditions have hit crop production. “I am also of the opinion that there is 40 per cent drop in crop as compared to last year’s output,” he says.

The absence of drainage system in lower Sindh continues to impact agriculture adversely and the government’s response to the problem remains dismal. A trend is gradually developing among growers to switch over to alternative crops from mango farming. They consider managing orchard an expensive and difficult job while other crops like wheat and cotton give them better return in a shorter period of time.