In Malaysia, Some Mango Farmers Thrive Despite Heatwave

S. Adie Zul
Perlis, Malaysia
2016-05-04
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160504-MY-harumanis-620.jpg Saidin Saad inspects his harumanis mango crop at his orchard near Kampung Paya Kelubi, Perlis, April 29, 2016.
S. Adie Zul/BenarNews

The scorching temperature of 36 degrees Celsius (96.8 degrees Fahrenheit) does not seem to stop Malaysian farmer Saidin Saad from inspecting the harumanis mangoes that grow abundantly in his orchard in Perlis state.

The 65-year-old farmer is one of a lucky few growers of the harumanis variety of mango who are enjoying a windfall from a prolonged heat wave that has swept across Peninsular Malaysia since January. Dubbed the ‘Super’ El Niño phenomenon among locals, the heat wave has particularly hit northern states, including parts of Perlis and Kedah that have not had rain for more than a month.

“Normally, we begin to pluck the mangoes in April and the trees would stop producing within a month, but this time it is totally different,” Saidin, whose small orchard lies near Kampung Paya Kelubi, told BenarNews.

“This time, the harvesting started as early as the middle of March and yet the trees are still producing flowers, so I suppose we are able to continue harvesting until June as compared to previous years where we normally get just one round of harvesting.”

Saidin expects his 0.7-acre (0.28 hectare) orchard to produce six metric tons (6.6 tons) of these mangoes in 2016 – double its annual output in previous years.

But Saidin’s luck is not shared by more than 3,000 harumanis growers based in Perlis. Poor maintenance and lack of fertilization have caused an overall 60 percent dip in production this year – a huge plunge from 2,200 metric tons (2,425 tons) last year to 1,000 metric tons (1,102 tons) this year, according to the state’s agricultural department.

The reduced supply has brought about a domino effect on the retail price of grade “A” harumanis, which leapt from 25 ringgit (U.S. $6.20) per kilo to between 35 and 40 ringgit ($8.65 and $9.93) per kilo.

Saidin is reaping a windfall from this because his supply is more abundant.

Weather affected crop production

Saidin’s joy is shared by his brother, Ishak, 56, who operates another orchard nearby.

“There are various factors that contributed to lower yield, besides the El Nino factor. It is a combination of many factors such as poor trees, maintenance and lack of fertilizer usage, while the weather could be just one of the compounding factors,” he told BenarNews.

“But harumanis trees need a hot and dry climate to produce a good yield and that is why [the variety is] only grown in Perlis.”

According to Perlis Agricultural Department director Zulkepli Amin Jusoh, weather at the start of the year dampened crop production for many other farmers.

“There was heavy rainfall in the East Coast states between last December and this January, which sent cold wind to Perlis, which triggered rains in several parts in Perlis at that time, when the weather was supposed to be hot and dry.

“This has affected harumanis trees [from flowering], which translated into a significant drop in overall production,” Zulkepli told BenarNews.

He said the situation was unprecedented because Perlis was not expected to have rainfall during December to spur the flowering of harumanis.

“Many of the harumanis growers do not have alternative crops to rely on, so they are suffering a massive losses this year,” he added.

Zulkepli said the department had distributed almost 200 water pumps to harumanis growers, whose orchards have been severely affected by the heat wave. The department also submitted a report to Agriculture and Agro-based Industry Ministry to seek compensation for the affected growers, he added.

The home of harumanis

Harumanis is a special tropical mango breed which grows only in Perlis, the smallest Malaysian state near the Malaysia-Thai border. Orchards are found in many parts of Perlis but the three main cultivation areas are in Bukit Bintang, Paya Kelubi and Chuping.

The state is on the receiving end of the hottest and driest climate in the country. Harumanis lovers often visit Perlis between mid-April and early June. A growing online trade is spiking the demand for this breed of mango, which is one of the most expensive tropical fruits.

The fruits grown in Perlis are literally going places – securing export markets in Japan, Singapore and Brunei and generating 40 million ringgit (U.S. $9.9 million) last year. It is the only Malaysian mango allowed to enter the Japanese market.

Small wonder then that the Intellectual Property Corp. of Malaysia (MyIPO) last year granted the government of Perlis exclusive rights in marketing of harumanis mangoes.

Yet the domestic demand cannot be met even as farmers employ locals as temporary security guards to keep poachers away from their crops.

No supply for Japan this year

Zulkepli said the production shortage had forced the state to defer exporting harumanis to the Japanese market this year.

He described the massive production dip as a major loss not only for the affected growers, but the state economy as well, since the crop draws so many tourists to the region.

He said the lower yield was recorded even as the land devoted to harumanis orchards grew, reaching 1,028 hectares (2,540 acres) this year.

And in an effort to increase exports (especially to Japan) in coming years, the department is encouraging orchard owners to apply for the My Good Agriculture Practice (My GAP) certification, which meets the Japanese market’s stringent quality standards, Zulkepli said.

“To date, we already have 14 growers with My GAP certificates and they have successfully exported their crop to Japan last year.

“We are auditing 29 new individual orchard owners for the Japanese export program and … we are targeting the overall yield to hit 4,000 metric tons in coming years,” he added.

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