Pakistani Mangoes Set to Sweeten US Markets
By Carrie Loewenthal Massey
Americans are in for a treat.
In spring 2011, Pakistan will send stateside the world’s sweetest mango — validated by universal scientific sweetness measurements — sure to delight even the most discerning of palates.
Unique not only in their high sucrose to water ratio, but also in their smooth, low-pulp flesh and strong, pleasant aroma, Pakistani mangoes will make their first trip to the United States in May or June.
This initial export marks a milestone in an ongoing joint project with the US Agency for International Development (USAID) and the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) and Pakistani farmers and mango growers to expand Pakistan’s mango industry.
“Pakistani mangoes are a symbol of Pakistani pride, so to export those is a symbol of Pakistan reaching out to the world,” said Zachary Orend, USAID economic growth adviser in Pakistan, in an interview with America.gov. Pakistan produces the third-largest crop of mangoes in the world, growing more than 1.5 million tons annually. Pakistan’s mango exports reached their highest levels ever in 2010, according to a US Embassy Islamabad press release.
The USDA works with Pakistan’s Ministry of Food, Agriculture and Livestock to obtain US market access for the mangoes, Orend said, while USAID helps Pakistani farmers build on-farm mango processing centers. Farms with these infrastructures can remove fungus from the fruit and wash, sort, grade and chill it. As of January 15, four farms had received this equipment, and 11 more farms in Sindh and Punjab will have it by March 31. Each of the farms, all of which are medium to large in size, contributes 50 percent of the investment costs of the processing infrastructure.
Wajahat Gardezi manages one of the farms receiving the new equipment. His 350-acre (142-hectare) orchard, called Mumtaz Agri Farms, in the Kabirwala Tehsil of District Khanewal, will hire 30 people to operate the new production line and anticipates a surge in productivity as a result of the new machinery.
“The USAID-supported mango processing facility will help increase the fruit’s shelf life for better survival during sea transfers and market displays,” Gardezi said in a USAID profile. “Pakistani mangoes are going places.”
With 15 on-farm systems in place by spring, the Pakistani farmers can preserve large portions of their harvest, which begins in May and goes through September. USAID hopes the on-farm systems will help meet Pakistan’s ultimate goal of increasing its mango industry revenues from $30 million to $60 million over three years.
“The trick is to encourage more investing. We’re supporting the 15 [farm systems], but if we get to 200 or 300, we’ll have a huge industry,” Orend said. “ Pakistan can sell as many mangoes as they can successfully treat, chill and ship,” he added.
BUILDING A U.S. MANGO MARKET: Pakistani mango farmer Wajahat Gardezi manages a 350-acre (140-hectare) orchard that includes a new mango-processing center built as part of the US project.
Currently, Pakistan exports less than 5 percent of its mango crop, and the exported mangoes go mostly to wholesale markets, according to a USAID fact sheet. A 2010 test shipment to the United States proved Pakistani mangoes have a promising audience among the Pakistani-American community, USAID said. There are 700,000 Pakistani Americans in the United States, in such cities as New York, Houston and Chicago, as well as in northern and southern California, according to the American Pakistan Foundation.
The first Pakistani mangoes will arrive by air at an irradiation treatment center in Iowa. After treatment, the produce will be shipped to cities with large Pakistani-American populations. USDA and USAID hope to establish weekly air shipments of a little more than one ton of mangoes, Orend said.
Ultimately, the United States would like to coordinate sea shipments of the mangoes because that allows for much larger exports than air shipments accommodate, and sea shipments cost less, which helps reduce the price a customer will pay for a mango. While the USDA works on logistics, which include transferring irradiation facilities to a portside location, USAID is helping Pakistani farmers qualify for certification in Global Good Agricultural Practice (GlobalGAP) production standards. Europe accepts GlobalGAP certification and can receive mangoes from the 20 farms that have already received it.
“The money [for Pakistan] is in getting sea shipments in volume to Europe and eventually the US,” Orend said.
MORE ECONOMIC BENEFITS: USAID’s mango program aims to spur far-reaching economic gains for Pakistani farmers. The 15 farms set to have their processing infrastructures in place by spring will act “as centers of clusters of mango producers,” pulling in the farms around them in order to produce the volume of fruit needed to fill the large sea shipping containers, said Orend. A 40-foot (12.2-meter) refrigerated sea container holds 16 tons of fruit.
Gardezi hopes to inspire his neighboring Pakistani farmers to join him to form a mango cluster. He sees banding together as crucial to economic growth, and he is proud to be at the forefront of the new fruit handling practices, according to USAID.
“There is an overall atmosphere of change and other farmers are now following in our footsteps,” he said in the USAID profile.
The on-farm systems give the farmers the ability to grade their fruit, which also increases its economic value.
“When you grade produce, you can sell it at higher prices, so there are better earnings for participating farmers. They can also fetch higher prices on the local market,” Orend said. “This ties into our larger policy project, which is trying to improve the way the Pakistani fruits and vegetables are marketed and sold.”
When the mango season ends, the farms can use the new blast chillers and cold storage spaces to keep tomatoes, cucumbers and other fruits and vegetables fresh for longer periods of time.
In addition to working with the mango infrastructure systems, USAID has trained close to 1,500 farmers from smaller farms in helpful pre- and post-harvest practices. As a result, these farmers have increased their per hectare productivity by as much as 15 percent, according to USAID. In the aftermath of the 2010 floods that devastated and destroyed crops across Pakistan, USAID also taught 350 mango growers how to minimize flood damage to their orchards.
USAID has also worked to identify other products that add export value to Pakistan’s mango crop. Dried sliced mangos, confectionary and cereal products, preserves, mango-seed oil for cosmetics, mango-kernel oil products and animal feed all have potential on the market, according to USAID’s fact sheet. In 2010, a sample consignment of 1,500 kilograms of dried mangoes went to major US retailers, including Whole Foods and Costco, for product feedback.
USAID’s work on the mango project is part of several efforts focused on building Pakistan’s business sector. The United States has partnered with Chemonics, a development consulting company based in Washington, and dedicated nearly $90 million to the mango project, which runs from May 2009 to May 2013.
(This is a product of the Bureau of International Information Programs, US Department of State. Web site: http://www.america.gov)