KARACHI, Pakistan

Pakistan’s traditional mango exports take a hit from the economic havoc wreaked by the coronavirus pandemic, as exporters fear a huge decline in export of the fruit this year.

Suspension of international flights, closure of borders, rising freight fares, and on top of all, contracting demands altogether are likely to decline the country’s mango exports by 35% to 40% this year.

Last year, Pakistan exported 130,000 metric tons of mangoes to the Middle East, Europe, the US, Japan, Australia and other countries.

This year, however, according to Waheed Ahmed, a leading fruit exporter and president of Pakistan Fruits Exporters Association, the country is expected to export not more than 80,000 metric tons of mangoes.

“Pakistan had earned over $90 million through mango exports alone but it will not be more than $50 million this year due to present coronavirus conditions,” Ahmed told Anadolu Agency.

“Timing is a key factor vis-a-vis mango exports as it’s a perishable commodity. It cannot wait long,” he said, adding: “Suspension of international flights has badly hit the mango exports to Europe and the US.”

“Many exporters are sending mangoes to Europe and the US via cargo flights but their charges have increased four times,” he added.

Closure of borders with neighboring Iran, and Afghanistan have also added to the decline in mango exports. The two countries together import 30,000 to 35,000 metric tons of mangoes annually.

“Mango exports to the Middle East are continuing via sea route but the demands are not that high as tens of thousands of Pakistanis and other South Asians have returned to their countries [from Gulf states], while a large number of people have lost their jobs,” he maintained.

Cost of production rises

Mahmood Nawaz Shah, a grower from southern Sindh province, the second largest mango producing province after northeastern Punjab, echoed Ahmed’s views.

“The overall mango exports will be lesser this year due to COVID-19 related restrictions, mainly closure of international flights, and a huge increase in freight rates,” Shah told Anadolu Agency.

Cost of production, he went on to say, also increased due to implementation of COVID-19 safety guidelines.

The country reported around 76,400 confirmed cases of the virus and 1,621 deaths so far.

Pakistan, last week, partially lifted a prolonged ban on international flights, which Shah thought, would give a relief to the mango exporters.

“This will certainly have a positive impact because at least access will be available,” he observed.

“But, I don’t see a huge difference because the airlines are not going to decrease the freight rates,” he added.

Ahmed too sees a little impact of resumption of flights on mango exports.

“I don’t see a major impact on [mango] exports because there is no decrease in freight rates.”

Less production

Extolled as king of fruits, India and Pakistan recognize it as their national fruit. Both often unleash its 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.

Until 2018, Pakistan produces 1.9 million metric tons of mangoes annually, thus ranking sixth in the world, followed by India, China, Thailand, Indonesia and Mexico. There are two dozens of mango varieties, notably, Anwar Ratual, Dasheri, Langra, Saroli, Sindhri, Totapari, and others.

But the taste of the country is prized Chaunsa, which accounts to 60% of total mango exports.

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 Pakistani part of Punjab and named a sprig he had transplanted there after his father, Anwar.

Almost every year, the Pakistani government sends a box of mangoes to the Indian prime minister, and other top functionaries in the Indian capital New Delhi.

Despite its aroma and taste that makes Pakistani mangoes a hot favorite, little attention is being paid to adopt latest harvest practices to improve their quality further.

The country’s mango production has declined over the past four years, a phenomenon blamed on global warming.

Pakistan’s actual production capacity of 1.9 million tons reduced to 1.4 million metric tons last year, and is likely to stand the same this year also, according to Ahmed.

“Mango crops requires [a] hot weather but winters are going longer and longer every passing year, which is gradually affecting the mango production,” he said.

This year, Ahmed said, the mango crop is two-week late due to delayed summer.

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