Mango growers struggle amid lack of migrant workers

As lockdown traps Punajb’s seasonal workers, growers in Sindh worry about the fate of their ripening fruit

Razzak Abro April 29, 2020

KARACHI: With the province in lockdown amid the coronavirus threat, over 0.1 million seasonal workers from Punjab have been made unsure about their entry in Sindh as the mango harvesting season draws closer.

Being the country’s major producer of the seasonal fruit, each year staring from the first week of May, Sindh harvests over 0.4 million acres of land spread across various districts for a variety of mangoes including the famous Sindhri.

Due to the enormous scope of work, the province’s harvesting season attracts thousands of labourers from lower Punjab, who have been making the journey lured by seasonal income for decades.

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However, with a ban on inter-city public transport and restrictions placed on inter-provincial movement without Covid-19 screening, the lockdown has left many workers unsure about how to reach the mango plantations in time for the harvesting season.

On the other hand, the mango farmers of Sindh too have been yearning for their workers from lower Punjab as the fruit on their trees begins to ripen.

The labourers coming from Punjab are generally considered much more experienced and hardworking than the locals. Which is why growers recently approached concerned districts and divisional administrations looking for a resolve but were instead told to wait for the provincial government’s directives in the regard.

“I have witnessed these workers coming to our mango farms every season for the past 40 years. They come from various districts including Bahawalpur, Rahimyar Khan, Dera Ghazi Khan, Multan and Rajanpur and stay for the entire season.

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These workers represent around 20% of the entire labour force present on our farms during harvest season and although the rest of the help is hired locally, growers specifically need them for their experience and expertise in picking, grading and packing mangoes,” said Sindh Chambers of Agriculture Vice President Haji Nisar Memon, who himself is a mango grower from Hyderabad district.

According to Memon, so far two detailed meetings have been held between representatives of the province’s mango growers and the concerned government officials to address the issue.

One was presided over by Hyderabad Commissioner Abbas Baloch and other by Deputy Commissioner Fuad G. Soomro. “The growers’ representatives advised the district and divisional officials that Sindh government should ensure screening of the labourers entering the province, while the Punjab government should also be requested to perform the task on their borders before allowing passage.”

However, both suggestions made by the grower representatives were termed difficult in practice by the divisional and district administration of Hyderabad. “Instead, the growers were asked to take the responsibility of screening the labourers upon their shoulders, which they regretted,” revealed Memon.

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Whereas, Hyderabad Deputy Commissioner Fuad G, Soomro told The Express Tribune that nothing concrete could be decided at the two meetings and the growers were thus asked to wait for Sindh cabinet’s verdict on the matter.

“Howbeit, the district administration will develop a mechanism and ensure safety of the people in light of the provincial government’s directives on the issue,” Soomro claimed.

However, although Sindh cabinet’s meeting chaired by provincial Chief Minister Syed Murad Ali Shah took place on Monday April 27, no decision on the matter was issued. “The matter was not discussed in the meeting,” commented Sindh Minister for Education and Labour Saeed Ghani but official sources claim that the provincial government has deliberately avoided the issue due to the severity of the matter.

“Sindh government is still quite apprehensive about allowing labour from Southern Punjab into the province,” said President Sindh Chambers of Agriculture, Miran Muhammad Shah confirming the reluctance of the provincial government.

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According to Shah, the growers too can only push the government to a certain level considering the severity of the virus’s threat. “The real problem of the mango growers is that there is no trained labour in Sindh especially for the packaging of mangoes. Aardti (middlemen) are involved in this process.

They have hired labour from Punjab by giving them advances and now they want to shift the burden of loss on the grower,” he asserted.

Published in The Express Tribune, April 29th, 2020.

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