COVID-19 restrictions hit mango exports, domestic market

HYDERABAD: Early varieties of newly ripened mangoes have started pouring in the markets of Sindh, but producers and traders said they were facing hardships due to export restrictions on sea and air routes.

Besides this, restrictions imposed on trained workforce to move from parts of Punjab to mango farms in Sindh has also hit contractors hard, impacting the overall marketing system.

Naveed Hussain, has signed a contract with three mango farms for Rs15 million this year near Deh Narejani, Hyderabad suburbs – one of the hub of mango fruit orchards. He too is afraid of facing losses due to market issues.

“It is obvious that Pakistan may not be able to export this precious product to different countries in thr current year because of the imposition of an indefinite lockdown and closure of sea and air routes,” he said.

The only way out seems to be selling mangoes in major cities of Punjab, Balochistan, and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, besides supplying in Sindh.

But the rates are not lucrative, Hussain said while talking to The News.

Normally, mangoes were sold in wooden boxes measuring 7-9kg at Rs1,000-Rs1,200 each in urban markets. “But this time due to lack of buyers, we were compelled to sell the same boxes at Rs300-Rs400 each only. Due to this, the contractors cannot recover the cost of picking, packing, and transportation,” Hussain added.

It was for the second consecutive year that mango producers, contractor and traders were experiencing losses. Last year, he said the federal government had imposed restrictions to adopt protocols, set by the countries, which buy Pakistan’s exported fruits.

“Each country, including countries in the European Union, has different protocols and required treatment to buy safe and healthy food. Thus, many traders, who could not adopt these protocols suffered colossal losses,” the contractor said, adding that this year, the pandemic had pushed exporters to sell to only local vendors.

Sindh Growers Alliance (SGA) President Nawab Zubair Talpur termed it horrible for producers, and said many leading contractors of mango farms, mostly from Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, could not return yet to take over farms, despite making advanced token payment for the deal.

Matters were further complicated as skilled labourers experienced in picking, packing, and grading failed to reach orchards in Sindh from Punjab, because inter-city public transportation was banned. These labourers do their jobs as per the necessary protocols set by different countries where these mangoes are exported.

Mostly mango orchard owners prefer to give their farms to contractors for one or two years to avoid any risk of changing weather, and ups and downs in the market. It is the responsibility of the contractors to bear the cost of picking, packing, transportation, labour and any other emerging issues.

But this year, Talpur said many leading mango producers were in trouble due the health crisis and the situations that were constantly coming up because of the imposed lockdown and ban on movements. He lamented the restrictions on the movement of labour, which forced traders to withdraw from their contracts, transferring the burden on producers.

He said the irony was that mangoes at retail shops in Karachi were being sold at Rs150-Rs200 or more, which they were being compelled to sell at Rs30-Rs40/kg only.

Manzoor Hulio, a producer in Deh Narejani, Hyderabad said only small-scale mango farmers have received contractors, who paid token amount as per deal. But many leading contractors have reportedly withdrawn from contracts, leaving producers in a helpless situation.

“Invading swarms of locusts in the area are another issue for farmers, which may also impact mango orchards right when the fruit is ripening,” he said.

Muhammad Ibrahim Lashari, a mango trader near famous Quba Stop, Tando Allahyar district, said, “We have already trained workers in picking, grading and packing mangoes for the local market.”

He was not sure about exports of fruit this year, and said, “We are sending loaded vehicles to the major cities of Punjab, Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, besides supplying to Sindh province, but rates are not reasonable, disappointing contractors.”

Workers were seen picking, grading and packing raw mangoes in wooden boxes for the market. Contractors usually employ skilled workforce on monthly-salary basis for the whole season. In case of further requirement, they hire local workers on daily wages, paying Rs400-Rs600/day, depending on their experience.

Contractors claimed they were following SOPs with provision of masks and hand washing mechanism, but workers themselves were seen avoiding the use of precautionary measures during the day long work.

Sindh has a variety of mango orchards over 0.4 million acres of land, spread across various districts. The famous varieties include Sindhri and Saroli.

Despite the restrictions, mango harvesting season has attracted thousands of labourers from different parts of Sindh. Mango that comes to the market is not fully ripe. Local vendors as always have set up stalls at highways to sell the seasonal fruit to travellers.

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