MULTAN: Until April, farmers in the famed mango-producing district of Mirpurkhas were expecting a bumper harvest of the succulent, yellow fruit which makes a sizeable share of the country’s exports.
However, their dreams of raking in big profits were shattered by an unusual spike in temperatures coupled with water shortages and unexpected windstorms in the months of March and April — factors that could drop the country’s mango production significantly.
Although farmers and exporters have varying estimates, they all agree that the mango production and subsequently exports are likely to be hit this year.
Spread over thousands of acres, hundreds of big and small mango orchids produce several varieties of mangos, mainly Sindhri, for which Mirpurkhas is world-famous.
Heavy windstorms in the first week of May caused major fruit-shedding, according to Mahmood Nawaz Shah, a local grower.
Shah said the early summer alone would not have been an issue if it was not flanked by a massive shortage of water.
The nation is currently facing huge water shortages due to less snowfall and rains — triggering widespread protests by farmers.
United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification last week listed Pakistan among 23 countries facing drought emergencies.
International environmental agencies warn that the water crisis may get worse by 2025 in Pakistan, which is among the top 10 countries badly affected by climate change.
Despite boasting one of the largest irrigation systems in the world, river water disputes with neighboring India and then between the provinces have given headaches to successive governments in Pakistan over the past 70 years.
Sindh and Punjab have been squabbling over water distribution even before the independence and partition of the Indian subcontinent in 1947.
Balochistan, the country’s largest province in terms of land but the least populated, also accuses the Sindh administration of stealing its water.
Pakistan’s yearly mango exports amount to 150,000 metric tons, mainly in the Middle East, Europe, the United States, Japan, Australia, and other countries. It earns around $90 million to $100 million to the national kitty annually.
Punjab, the country’s largest province and the bread basket, produces 70 percent of the country’s total mangoes, whereas Sindh and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa yield 29 percent and 1 percent, respectively.
Until 2018, Pakistan produced 1.9 million metric tons of mangoes annually, thus ranking sixth in the world, preceded by India, China, Thailand, Indonesia, and Mexico
The country’s mango production has declined over the past four years, a phenomenon blamed on global warming.
Currently, Pakistan’s annual mango production stands between 1.7 million and 1.8 million metric tons.
“Unusual temperatures in March and April have wreaked havoc on mango production over the past few years, causing a significant reduction in its quantity,” said Shahid Hameed Bhutta, a grower from Multan, another big mango producing district.
Temperatures soared to 38-42 degrees Celsius in March and April in Multan, at least 6 degrees higher than usual causing massive fruit-shedding.
At this stage, when the mangoes are nearly ripe, Bhutta said a temperature of 32 and 34 degrees Celsius is ideal.
Water shortages and unavailability of diesel and electricity to run the tube wells are other reasons cited by Bhutta for a drop in mango production.
Mango will be expensive this year
Waheed Ahmad, a leading mango exporter, says there is bad news for mango lovers this year.
“The fruit will be expensive for this year as a 50% decrease in the country’s overall mango production is expected due to multiple factors, particularly the ongoing water shortages,” Akhtar Said, who is also president of Pakistan Fruits Exporters Association told Anadolu Agency.
This year, he said, the association has reduced the export target from 150,000 metric tons to 125,000 metric tons due to less production, which would be no more than 900,000 metric tons.
Rising sea and air fares, Akhtar added, have further added to the exporters’ hardships.
Echoing a similar view, Bhutta fears there would be a 40 percent to 50 percent drop in mango yields this year.
Despite this, Bhutta hopes that the country would meet the export target of 150,000 metric tons if “exporters give a good rate to the growers.”
“But for Pakistanis, the fruit will be a bit costlier this year due to a low production,” he said.
Shah put the drop in mango production to 10 percent to 12 percent, saying the other estimates were on the higher end.
Rising fuel, transportation, labor, and packaging costs are also poised to boost the domestic prices of mangos.
King of fruits
Extolled as the king of fruits, Pakistan and India recognise it as their national fruit. Both often unleash their clout in diplomacy and political outreach.
The fruit has also been used by writers and poets in the region over centuries to represent unspoken thoughts and feelings.
There are two dozens of mango varieties, notably, Anwar Ratual, Dasheri, Langra, Saroli, Sindhri, Totapari, and others.
The most famous Pakistani mango is known as Anwar Ratol, which has its roots in a village two hours from New Delhi, in the Baghpat district of western Uttar Pradesh province.
Many years before Partition in 1947, a mango grower from Ratol had migrated to the Pakistani part of Punjab and named a sprig he had transplanted there after his father, Anwar.
Almost every year, Islamabad sends a box of mangoes to the Indian prime minister, and other top functionaries in the Indian capital of New Delhi.
However, little attention is being paid to adopting the latest harvest practices to improve their quality further.
Mango crops require hot weather but winters are going longer every passing year, which is gradually affecting the mango production.
“Climate change is a long-running issue, which needs a lot of time and effort to tackle. However, its adverse impact can be minimized through proper water management, and use of modern agricultural techniques,” Bhutta said, adding that given the right environment Pakistan could increase its mango production threefold.