The curious case of mango production in Sindh, this year will be around “50pc compared to last year”, fears a grower. It is around noon with no escape from the scorching sun. A few young villagers are bathing in a small water channel with their buffaloes, who are also taking a dip to beat the heat.

The curious case of mango production in Sindh

The water channel is part of the Rohri canal system of the Sukkur Barrage. This channel passes by an orchard of mangoes. As this scribe enters the space, some voices are audible from a corner of the orchard A man beckons me to move to a corner of the orchard where half a dozen workers are present in a circle under the canopy of a mango tree. Unripe mangoes are scattered there with a sweet smell pervading in all parts of the orchard. The workers’ necks are craned upwards to the trees, where nearly half a dozen helpers pluck unripe mangoes. The workers undertake the task with no visible precautions, climbing up 30-feet on a tree to harvest the mangoes the practice which is called pattaee to pluck in the local parlance.“It’s a routine job for us every season when pattaee begins,” says a bearded man with a strong physique named Farman.

“When we go home after a long day’s work, we sleep as if we have taken some sleeping pills,” he says while highlighting the labour-intensive nature of the job. Every summer, vehicles laden with mangoes reach wholesale markets from all parts of lower Sindh, carrying a variety of different types depending on the stage of the season. There are several sobriquets to identify the fruit of different origins. Sindhri arrives in the market in June’s first week. While Saroli, Daseri being early varieties precede the Sindhri in the market. Before June, Sindhri’s taste is generally not palatable.The mango enjoys an exalted status among fruits and is described as the ‘king of fruits’. It has also been the cynosure of Urdu works as the writings of celebrated poets like Mirza Ghalib and Akbar Allahabadi have references giving special significance to the fruit.

“Aamo main buss do khubiyan honi chahiye, ek meethe ho aur bohut saare ho (mangoes need to have two qualities: They must be sweet and in abundance)” is his most quoted observation about his love for mangoes.Plucking mangoes with the aim to store them undamaged is what Farman and his co-worker Amjad have to ensure as the latter carries an empty plastic bag for the job. “We can’t otherwise handle the fruits thrown towards us at great speeds if there is no bag with us,” remarks Amjad. The bag is attached to wooden sticks at their ends. Mangoes thrown by Farman and his fellow workers from the tree are caught in the bag and then gently placed on the ground.

Farman expertly maintains his balance while deftly picking mangoes with his practised hand. “Pakarr, pakarr [catch it, catch it],” he shouts excitedly to alert his fellow worker down below so that he doesn’t miss any.“Each dropped mango means increased wastage,” says one of the workers. Once a considerable quantity of mangoes pile up, others shift them to another portion of the orchard where they are sorted, graded and packed. wooden crates bardana in the market’s parlance are kept in large quantities and are packed with the fruit for transport to the market. Different sizes of bardana carry 10kg to 13kg of fruits.A chemical compound, calcium carbide, is put in each crate to accelerate the ripening of the fruit. “Take it, it is shaakh ka aam (a mango ripened enough before being plucked),” says a worker while offering a fresh mango to this scribe to taste.

While harvesting is typically done with the conventional pattaee, there are some progressive mango producers who adopt modern scientific for the exercise .Ghulam Sarwar Abro owns a 350-acre orchard in Thatta district. “Each mango has to be plucked with a device along with its little stem. It is done to avoid sap burn on mangoes,” he said. The plucked mangoes are then desapped by the workers. “This practice ensures the quality of the fruit,” he said. Fruits at his huge orchard are then processed in a pack house. Sap burn is a post-harvest disorder that reduces storage life of fruit.

A mango contractor, Rasool Bux Memon, believes this year case of mango production i has reduced, fearing a 40pc to 50pc drop in production. He blames this year’s poor crop on the [water shortage][1] mainly and pest attacks on trees which were beyond control.High-velocity winds are also usually reported around May before the arrival of mangoes. Winds make unripe mangoes fall prematurely and contribute to wastage. The ratio of smaller-sized Sindhri is a bit high this year, which otherwise has considerable weight and size.

“We are witnessing undersized mangoes in a large quantity this year that can be linked to climate change-driven weather patterns. Then a major pest of mangoes, the hopper, proved to be disastrous for production,” he says. Hoppers are tiny insects that affect trees and fruit equally.Orchard owner Rasool Bux Memon agrees with the production estimates. “Of course, a considerable decline in mango production is seen this year,” he says. “Water shortages hit orchards while diseases here cannot be controlled.” “The drop in mango production this year will be around 50pc compared to last year’s production,” says Abro. “Water availability is important at the time of maturity and it wasn’t available in many orchards this year,” he remarks.

There is a strong tendency among growers of Sindh to let out their orchards to farmers. It can be attributed to lethargy among orchard owners, who tend to have an easy-going mango economy instead of managing orchards like other crops including the yearlong sugarcane. The system has been in vogue for as long as one can remember. Contractors either rent orchards for multiple years or enter into short-term contracts till the disposal of the entire mango crop.“Renting out the mango orchard is like a tradition among orchard owners. But they also lack understanding of mango marketing dynamics”, says Mehmood, a progressive grower from the lower Sindh region.

“They perhaps don’t want to take care of crop as it requires the typical kind of work which they (growers) tend to avoid”, he says. He, however, agrees that this is no reason to outsource them. “Take my case. While I manage my family farm in Tando Allahyar I am letting out another in Hyderabad to a contractor. Mango contractors mostly deal with only a single crop. So, we (growers) mostly feel they (contractors) have the acquired expertise to deal with it,” he says. They arrange seasonal labourers quickly and know market dynamics more than growers, who focus on other major crops like cotton, sugarcane, wheat and rice.

Nawab Zubair Talpur, another mango producer, agrees with Mehmood’s viewpoint. “Around 90pc [of orchard] owners avoid managing mango harvests and let out their farms to contractors, who are well versed with mango marketing,” he says. In fact, he says, contractors and wholesale market commission agents have an “alliance” and the market players who dominate everything there. “We can’t handle it simply. My brother once tried to deal with the mango crop on his own but failed,” Zubair recalls. He says orchard contractors have market-related links all over Pakistan. “So, it is easy for them to manage one or multiple orchards at a time”, he adds. The contractors start searching for orchards in the Jan-Feb period a time when flowering, which locally is called “boor”, starts appearing in mango trees.

All these factors do have a direct effect on crops that can go either way. And it is then the contractor’s fortune if he makes the most of it or incurs losses. But given the strong culture of orchards outsourcing, contractors do not end up as losers. This year, however, contractors are said to have suffered losses in crops, whose production is affected by disease, temperature variation and gusty winds that have blown off a significant number of mature fruit. Some contractors had cancelled their deals halfway, arguing they would incur more losses if they start harvesting fruit.

Source: This news is originally published by dawn

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