By: Zhou Rong Source: China Economic Net Published: 2020-08-06
Dwindling harvests, dropping demand and export supply chains hit by the coronavirus are biting into Pakistan's mango industry, with producers of the prized fruit battling to weather a disastrous season.
Across Pakistan's "mango belt" in Punjab and Sindh provinces, farmers complained a long winter and changing rain patterns have slashed production by up to half this year – just as virus shutdowns sparked border restrictions and spiraling export costs.
There are multiple challenges that mango farmers are facing. The mangoes are ready, but fewer exporters are willing to take the risk and place orders.
Last year Pakistan produced more than 1.5 million tons of mangoes – and exported a record 115,000 tons worth US$80 million – making it the sixth-largest exporter of the fruit in the world and also enjoyed huge share of sells on international market.
But in the past six months, exports have dropped around 40 percent compared to the same period last year and with just a few months left of the season, it was very hard to estimate the loss and costs.
The fruit also helps sweeten diplomatic relations. Pakistan right now is sending its best mangoes to international dignitaries and celebrities 'after overcoming travel restrictions'. Pakistan has started exporting mangoes to Japan in a major relief for mango growers in the country.
With much of the world's air traffic grounded by the coronavirus, exports of the best prime, ripe fruit by plane to the United States and Europe have been particularly hard hit, but ground transport has also been badly affected.
For example, dozens of trucks piled high with the yellow fruit were stranded at the border with Iran last month, with the precious cargo rotting in the 40-degree heat.
Even where trading has continued via sea to the key Middle East market – which accounts for 70 percent of exports – demand has obviously shrunk.
Since the virus took hold shoppers are making fewer outings to supermarkets and are wary of spending on luxury items, while Pakistani migrant workers who enjoy the flavor of the fruit have returned home. In one hot spot, harvests were at least spared the ravages of the worst locust plague in 25 years, which wiped out most of vegetable and cotton harvests. As flights resume and border restrictions are eased, we sincerely hope that Pakistan would soon increase exports in the second half of the season to avoid a complete lost season.
Someone once advised China to increase mango imports from Pakistan. This idea is indeed constructive. But in recent years, China's demand for Pakistani mangoes has been dwindling. China's Hainan Province has been able to produce mangoes of the same quality as Pakistan.
Due to China’s advantages in logistics and transportation, these mangoes can reach Beijing smoothly by high speed railway and safely in only 9 hours of train transportation. When it was sold in the market, there were no scars, and its color and sweetness were not inferior to Pakistani mangoes.
This is an objective fact. Even that, China imported tens of thousands of tons of mangoes and agricultural products from Pakistan, which caused domestic fruit merchants to reduce their imports of Vietnamese mangoes.
Although there is a bumper harvest of mangoes in Vietnam this year, no Chinese buyers have come! But we have to say, if Pakistani mango farmers could not fully depend on the increase export of mangoes to China, they have to wisely sell the fruits nearby.
If they want to secure a certain income in the next few months, they need to strengthen the management of mango forests, logistics and the Pakistani government also needs to expand subsidies and transportation support for the fruit farmers and to channel middle east market.
If the government can organize enough vehicles (truck and ships), it is best to quickly ship mangoes to the domestic and international market in the vicinity. However, in the long term, mango processing should be placed in priority.
Even if Pakistan would like to continue to sell fresh mangoes, it has to address the problems of refrigeration and preservation and to develop Mango process sectors should be the right direction for the future.
And there will be a great potential for the long term, the processed mangoes may enjoy best sell.
The author is a senior fellow at Chongyang Institute for Financial Studies, Renmin University of China (RDCY).
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