Summers in Pakistan are welcomed by the arrival of mangoes, the country’s second largest fruit crop. But this year, as the mango season approached in May, reports confirmed that the harvest wouldn’t be the same, after extreme weather ravaged the country.
This year, Pakistan and neighboring India experienced heatwave conditions starting from March through June. According to a report by AlJazeera, temperatures in Pakistan soared to 50°C with Jacobabad city in Sindh province hitting 49,5°C.
Weather warnings issued through the summer specified how the heatwave and dry weather could cause water stress to standing crops, vegetables and orchards. In crops such as mango and wheat, this impact has been recorded in terms of its quantity, size, and overhaul produce.
Dr Manzoor Ali Abro, head of the Department of Plant Pathology at the Sindh Agriculture University (SAU) in Tandojam explained that this year’s heat waves lowered production of mango crops. Local farmers estimated that only about 40% of mangoes in Sindh province fruited this season.
“A few days ago, one farmer came to me and mentioned that where their 11 acre orchard used to produce about 30 trucks of mangoes, this year, the farm produced only about 11 trucks,” he explained.
Such conditions might intensify in the future. The UN’s scientific body on climate change, the IPCC, in its Sixth Assessment Report noted that being agrarian economies, South Asian countries like India and Pakistan are most vulnerable to climate change impacting food security through “extreme climatic conditions”. Additionally, the report found Pakistan amongst countries where “water stress is likely to be more pronounced”.
With the crop expected to reduce by 50 per cent, farmers confirm the impact of these climate events on their mango orchards and describe an unprecedented situation, he said.
“You can imagine how much of their mangoes were damaged. When all the factors like temperature, water availability, and wind combine, they will affect your overall yield or production,” Dr Abro added.
“Never seen” impacts
Residing in Mirpur Khas district of Sindh —in Pakistan’s Southeast— Ali Kachelo, the owner of Kachelo Fruit Farms, felt some of the impacts himself. To keep an eye on the ecological conditions, Kachelo said he looks at the condition of indigenous trees such as the neem (Azadirachta indica) tree.
“These trees are an indicator of when it is the right time to plant, reap and sow other crops such as mangoes,” Kachelo said. He grows at least 26 varieties of mangoes.
In Pakistan, approximately 77% of mango produce is cultivated in the Punjab region (also in the country’s East), while the rest comes from Sindh.
He noted that this year, in the month of June, the neem trees still hadn’t come to fruit although they normally do so by this time — a sign of changing climate conditions.
In his mango orchards this year, he saw a varied effect on mango trees planted right next to each other — some were healthy and flowered, while others grew no flowers and turned directly into weeds.
He added that a further 5% of their crop was lost due to water shortages coupled with heavy winds and the unseasonably high temperatures.
“Never in my life have I seen such adverse effects on our trees,” he said. Kachelo estimated that this year in the Sindh province, only 40% of the mango crop had fruited.
Kachelo noted that he had been able to spray his mango trees with amino acids, which have multiple uses in plants and stave off the effects of stress caused by adverse conditions in the environment. This, he mentioned, saved him from being in a situation as challenging as some other farmers were in.
Dr Abro mentioned that during the festival of Eid-ul-Fitr in the beginning of May, there were a couple of days of unexpected strong winds that blew and destroyed whatever fruit was about to ripen.
This resulted in not just a quantity loss but an impact on the size of mangoes. Dr Abro explained that the wind and day and night time temperature changes had a cumulative effect on the size of mangoes particularly of the Sindhri mango variety.
One such farmer, for whom the reduced mango size impacted the business, was Humayun Hassan, who owns the Rani Fruit Farm in Nawabshah in Sindh.
“Initially, a box of 10 kilograms would carry 25 to 30 mangoes,” Hassan, owner of Rani Fruit Farm in Sindh’s Nawabshah said. “Now, 40 mangoes have to be put in the box in order to complete the weight of the boxes. So this way you have to increase its quantity [in the box] and that causes a loss,” he explained.
Prices not impacted significantly
Muhammad Shahzad Zafar, a senior scientist at the Mango Research Institute in Multan, however, explained that while the mango crop had reduced this had not impacted prices that significantly.
“No doubt production is very less […] but you will see that the price of mangoes is very good. It is very high,” he said.
Citing the example of the Chaunsa summer variant of mango grown in Pakistan’s Punjab province, Zafar explained that last year the price per 40kg for this variant was 2,500-3,000 Pakistani rupees (US $11-13) per 40kg but this time it has gone up 5,500 rupees per 40kg (US $24).
Zafar said that despite less crop, the prices this year were “very good”. He said that while some mango variants had been more impacted including in terms of size, the sizes of the export variants were at a good standing.
At the export level, the scientist said there would be a dent but it would not be the same as the impact on production.
With Pakistan being the sixth largest mango producer globally, the impacts of such weather conditions also leave an international footprint — the Pakistan Fruit and Vegetable Exporters Association had to slash export targets by 25,000 tonnes compared to the previous year.
“Mango export volumes of only 125,000 tonnes will impact not just livelihoods and incomes at a time of high inflationary pressures, it will also mean a $160million cut in foreign exchange earnings,” Sherry Rehman, Minister for Climate Change mentioned earlier in May.
According to The Express Tribune, a local news publication, All Pakistan Fruit and Vegetable Exporters Association (PFVA) Patron in Chief Waheed Ahmed said that along with the reduction in the mango crop, “the depreciating rupee (local currency), rising labor cost along with high tariff on electricity and gas have multiplied the cost of processing mangoes”. Additionally, packaging costs have also gone up, he was quoted as saying.
Changing temperatures also created another unexpected result — increase in pests and diseases.
Tofiq Pasha, a farmer and owner of Rahuki Fruit Farms in the Hyderabad region of Sindh experienced this. He explained that when the temperature started rising prematurely while the fruit was still small, pests like the mango hopper attacked the mango.
“It just multiplied like crazy and attacked the young fruit, the flower, the plant and it completely devastated the crop. This again was climate induced,” Pasha said.
Dr Abro added that this year they had seen new varieties of the fruit fly. Previously, he said, there was only a yellow species but this year red and black fruit flies had been seen. According to the professor, this is due to both natural genetic variations as well as the impact of the environment.
Not just the pest behavior, even plant behavior was impacted by the rising temperatures. Usually, mango flowers at the end of winter, after which a pea-sized fruit is formed. As the temperatures warm up, the fruits grow bigger.
But this year, when the weather warmed up a bit as early as January, it impacted the flowering of mango plants immensely by March, especially the Sindhri variety. “I saw a 50% reduction in my crop,” Pasha said, who grows a range of mango varieties.
Impacts to the mango flowers were also witnessed in the Punjab province, the most populous province and second largest province of the country. The province which saw a bumper crop — produce more than usual — in 2021.
“Every year is a different year for the same crop, like this year, we never imagined that such heat will hit and there would be such a shortage of irrigation [water],” said Rabia Sultan, who has been running the KGF Farms in Kot Addu, South Punjab for over 20 years where she has a mango orchard amongst others.
Sultan explained that this year in March, temperatures went up to 40°C because of which there was no spring season, which is when mango trees generally blossom.
Some farmers who had taken care of their nutritional programmes and irrigation regimes at this stage were able to stabilize their crops, said Zafar. This included Sultan, who herself was able to irrigate her farm.
“These are things that people don’t even notice till they happen and now the farmers don’t know what to do because we have not understood climate change […] so mitigation will come much later,” Sultan added.
Heat struck in April and May again with temperatures soaring high, and once again, the fruit could not bear the heat. This heat also resulted in drought-like situations in low-rainfall regions Sindh and South Punjab, as advisories by Pakistan’s Meteorological Department show.
“In this whole situation, we had one thing left that could combat the heatwave — water for irrigation,” Zafar said. However, water wasn’t available in the canals and a diesel and fuel shortage also compounded the issue.
Sultan indicated another reason could have diminished the mango produce in 2022 — last year’s bumper crop. “This year then, the plant seemed to have gone through an exhaustive stage and hence gave less fruit,” she said.
In 2017 too, a heatwave had impacted mango crops in Pakistan, but by the time it occurred, the fruit had already developed and was also available in markets. The damage then, was lesser. “This year, the heat waves struck at a time when the flowers on mango trees were formed and the fruit was in the developing stage,” Zafar explained, indicating why the damage this year was higher.
“It’s frightening, actually, the extent to which climate change is already affecting our food production,” laments Pasha. “With mango, it is still okay, we can do without eating that much mango. But for other food crops, like wheat [ a staple crop which also suffered this year due to heatwaves], it is not.”