Ziauddin, a wholesale fruit dealer, notices unusual trends in the mango business this year: a two-week delay in the arrival of the crop and comparatively lower prices, which he attributes to a drop in export of the fruit to the Middle East, especially Iran and Saudi Arabia. “As soon as the export routes to Iran are reopened, the price will show an upward trend,” he tells Dawn.com. Until then, however, local wholesale and retail markets will continue to offer mango at a reasonable price.
According to the assessment of mango growers and market forces, the crop is showing a 30 per cent deficit in terms of production in Sindh, justifying Ziauddin’s analysis. The deficit is primarily blamed on last year’s monsoon downpour, which caused serious damage to the mango farms in Sindh. Arrival of crop, this year, was delayed and even varieties like ‘daseri’ and ‘saroli,’ which are available in the market by second or third week of May, were delayed.
Subsequently, the Sindhri, which is the most popular variety of mango and liked world over, also arrived in the market after a delay. This variety stands out due to its size, taste, look and shelf-life.
Mango is grown in over 100 varieties, but originally it is classified into two varieties, one from India and Pakistan, and the other from Southeast Asia.
Traditionally, Mirpurkhas, Umerkot, Tando Allahyar, Matiari, Sanghar and parts of Hyderabad have been mango-growing areas of lower Sindh. However, it is also grown in the upper Sindh region now, as well as Khairpur and Naushahro Feroz.
Sindhri contributes to a major portion of the country’s overall export of the fruit. In the 1960s, Sindh held an edge over the Punjab. During the 1980s, the two provinces were neck-and-neck in mango production, but since the 1990s, Punjab has been the hub of the king of fruits.
Mango growers believe that the crop is not as profitable in comparison to wheat and cotton. According to Abdul Majeed Nizamani, the ‘Sindhri’ variety originally hails from Bombay, but Sindh’s hot and humid climate suits it the best.
Following the damage caused by last year’s monsoon to the mango orchards, temperature variations left a substantial effect on mango crop this year, affecting its production. Although the fruit’s picking started in late April and May in areas like Umerkot, it lacked the traditional taste.
According to veteran fruit-commission agent, Ghulam Hussain, a delay in the arrival of ‘saroli’ and ‘daseri’ is to be blamed on last year’s monsoon. He visited mango orchards in Kisano Mori, Tandojam and Tando Allahyar and was surprised to find out that in addition to the delay, changing weather conditions have also affected the fruit’s size. “The shape of the fruit had not developed properly by early May,” he says, adding that fast-blowing winds sway the crop and develop its shape and size in the process.
Atta Soomro, who is the director of the Sindh Horticulture Research Institute (SHRI), believes an extended spell of cold weather served as a major irritant in the over-all crop size. “Temperatures required for mango weren’t there even until April. There were unusual rains in April, besides prolonged winter. It was only in last week of April that mercury started going-up,” he points out.
Last year, the production was said to be around 379,000-metric tons. Mirpurkhas division, which is the biggest producer of ‘Sindhri’ was unable to live up to the expectations after being hit by heavy rainfall, and the subsequent delay in drainage. Up to six feet of rain and saline water stagnated the orchards, which remained under water for at least three months. As a result, the trees were weakened and led to heavy losses to mango-orchard owners.
Exports have been dealt a blow this year. Their pace is yet to pick up. Well-known mango trader Asif Ahmed believes that Iran’s ban on mango exports from other countries, including Pakistan, is affecting the fruit’s trade. “We faced a similar situation while exporting oranges to Iran”, he says.
As far as exports to other countries are concerned, Asif believes, Yemen has emerged as a major competitor. “It is capturing markets in Saudi Arabia, Muscat and other countries in the Middle East, giving us a tough time in these markets”, he says. In Yemen, he says, mango crop starts arriving in March, so they precede us in mango marketing as our season begins in late May or early June.”
Last year, he recalls, exports to Iran accounted for 30 to 40 per cent of total mango crop of the country.
A drop in price has also been noticed this season. Last year, mango was sold for Rs1,400 to Rs1,500 per maund by contractors, while the price has gone down to Rs900 per maund this year, which Ahmed attributes to the decline in exports.
Qazi Faizullah, who has been associated with mango-orchard farming had to do away with his 30-year-old orchard, spread over 100 acres in Tando Jan Mohammad in Mirpurkhas district. “Rainwater had harmed it substantially and the trees fell prey to the sudden-death syndrome”, he says, fearing that even the trees that remain may not survive.
Soomro’s contention is that 25 percent of orchards in lower Sindh’s districts including Umerkot, Sanghar, Mirpurkhas and part of Tando Allahyar are almost gone due to last year’s rain related damages. Those located in Hyderabad and Matiari remain safe. “Accumulation of rainwater on land raised level of sub-soil water to an extent that water is available in root zone of trees which is dangerous”, he says. Temperature variation affected development and growth of fruit.
“Orchards are hit by frost too…..this year average minimum temperature in February was recorded at five degree centigrade. It usually remains at nine degree Celsius”, Soomro adds. He recalled that on February 8 mercury dropped to minus two degree astonishingly. For him, February and March were unusually cold when temperature hovered between 20 to 25 degree against 35 degree in March to benefit fruit, he says. He has already feared that that there will be 30 percent shortfall in production. Unusual weather damaged process of flowering and fruit setting.
Imdad Nizamani, a progressive noted mango farmer, agrees with Soomro. He attributes shortfall in production to climatic conditions. “I foresee a drop of up to 40 per cent in crop production, since whenever there is a wet year, it harms mango orchards.”
The author is Dawn’s senior reporter in Hyderabad.