With the season around the corner, expats living in the US might, once again, wonder whether they will be able to buy Pakistani mangoes from their local grocery stores this year. Unfortunately, the short answer would be no.
Despite some advancement in processing technology, Pakistan has yet to reach the standards set by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) to tap the world’s largest market.
In a recent interview with a major mango exporter, Babar Khan Durrani, CEO at Pakistan Horti Fresh Processing (Pvt.) Ltd, it was learnt that technological advancements, which opened up new markets for Pakistani mangoes, were helpful but still fail to meet USDA standards.
Previously, the country had been exporting mangoes to Hong Kong, Singapore, Malaysia, China, Iran, Jordan and the UK. After acquiring the hot water treatment (HWT) technology in 2012, the country was able to enter new markets in Lebanon, South Korea, Australia and Mauritius, while
New Zealand and South Africa are likely to be added to the list this season.
Durrani said they have recently imported an automatic plant from the Netherlands. The plant not only processes but does the packaging and sizing of the mangoes as well and has an ultra violet ray function to separate the damaged or infected mangoes from those deemed fit for human consumption.
Mangoes can cause nine types of diseases – fruit flies, their eggs and larva being the most dangerous. The HWT technology kills them all, Durrani claims, which is why Australia that has one of the world’s toughest regulation standards opened up its market for Pakistani mangoes.
Besides HWT, growers have taken steps to protect their mangoes at the farm level. For example, they import special bags from Australia and Korea and wrap them around the fruit just when it blossoms – this protects the mangoes from fruit flies, Durrani says.
While the current technology has helped our mangoes reach more markets, including some developed ones, the exporters are barred from exporting Pakistani mangoes to the US via sea.
The disappointment of Pakistani exporters is understandable because the US remains the most important destination for mango exporters all over the world with an annual demand of 200,000 tons a year – 60,000 tons higher than Pakistan’s total exports, which were recorded at 140,000 tons in fiscal 2013.
Durrani argues that Pakistan has the same processing technology as Mexico does but the latter can export their mangoes via sea. He says better diplomacy from both sides can resolve this issue.
While Durrani believes it is a diplomatic matter, Washington disagrees.
HWT and Vapor Heat Treatment are used in some countries but fruit flies in those countries are different from those in Pakistan, Spokesperson for US Consulate General Karachi Andrew L. Armstrong told The Express Tribune.
Mexico and the US are in the same geographical region – the former’s pests, therefore, don’t pose a threat to the American crops but Pakistan’s do. It is for this reason that the US has not approved of the same treatment for Pakistani mangoes.
“Fruit flies and other pests present in Pakistan, but not in the US, must be killed in order to prevent them from harming fruit and vegetable crops in the US,” Armstrong said.
To address this problem, Islamabad and Washington agreed that irradiation was the best treatment, according to Armstrong. In 2010, both countries agreed that the best option was to utilise irradiation facilities in the US. To facilitate this, the USDA created a first of its kind system to allow safe import and irradiation of Pakistani mangoes in the US. Currently, one private facility in Iowa is available for irradiation of mangoes from Pakistan.
But this option is economically not viable for Pakistani exporters. Treating Pakistan’s mangoes in the US is not only costlier but also riskier, according to Waheed Ahmed – another major player in the mango export business.
A pre-clearance might have been the other option. However, the spokesman said the USDA has determined that a preclearance program is not possible at this time because it requires a USDA inspector to be present in Pakistan for the entire season and carry out various inspections – this would only raise the costs for exporters. Under the current scenario, there is perhaps only one option.
“We need at least two irradiation plants — one each in Karachi and Multan,” Waheed said. Since one plant costs around $2 million, he said, they asked for the government’s support but the latter did not bother.
Published in The Express Tribune, March 17th, 2014.