Best mango. Pangasinan, it’s the soil & water

MANILA - Half-expecting to partake of fresh mangoes and to meet & greet rival candidates for Congress of the 6th District of Pangasinan General Hermogenes Esperon and Vice Governor Marlyn P Agabas today, Wednesday, the 24th of February, I am at the auditorium of the Narciso Ramos Sports & Civic Center in this capital town of Lingayen, Pangasinan, attending the 12th National Mango Congress of Philippine mango producers, handlers, processors, traders and exporters under the joint sponsorship of the Philippine Mango Industry Foundation Inc, PMIFI, as represented by PMIFI President Virginia Dela Fuente, as well as the Province of Pangasinan as represented by Governor Amado T Espino Jr. The Congress ends on the 26th, Friday. I am attending as a delegate of Esperon’s own hometown of Asingan in this province; I who happen to have graduated with a BS in Agriculture from the University of the Philippines Los Baños interested in mangoes, as well as I am a journalist interested in climate change and global warming. How will mango and climate change mix - not to mention politics - on this occasion?

Not only that. I have always thought that the mangoes from my province are one of the best in the Philippines; I am going to find out today if I have been right.

I find out I am wrong. About mangoes, I learn today at least 2 things:

(1) Mangoes from Pangasinan are the best in the Philippines. Equivocal.
(2) Mangoes from the Philippines are the best in the world. Unequivocal.

On the inside front cover of the Souvenir Program is this teaser from Syngenta Philippines: “The world’s best mangoes come from the best mango growers.” Syngenta has come to the right place. I learn from Ms Dela Fuente that Pangasinan is the #1 mango producer in the country, contributing 38% of the national annual harvest of 1 billion kilos. And the #2 mango province? Isabela, but a very poor 2nd, because it produces only 5% of the national total (Leonardo V Micua, 25 February, balita.ph). When we’re ahead, we’re ahead by a mile and a half.

That tells me immediately that the mangoes from Pangasinan must be the best, and this is my logic: Since they are the most delicious, most people buy them - and that’s why over the years, a great many more farmers have come to grow more mangoes in Pangasinan than in any other province in these tropical isles, including Guimaras Island, the more popular mango name if you read the papers. Careful: What the papers make famous does not necessarily mean they make the best. By the same logic, I’m willing to beat that mangoes from Pangasinan are not only the sweetest in Luzon, as shown in a contest (ANN, 17 February 2010, pia.gov.ph), but the sweetest in the whole country. When we’re #1, nobody comes close.

Indeed, the PMIFI reports that “the Philippine mango (‘carabao’ variety) is considered the best in the world.” And the best of the best mangoes in Pangasinan come from the town of Anda and other western towns where there are limestone deposits. They grow the most succulent and sweetest mangoes. The soil must be rich and juicy itself to the trees. This is the soil at its best.

Mangoes are at their best when the ripening is natural and not speeded up by chemical or some other means. It’s Mother Nature at work, at her best.

The Philippines produces at least 1 billion kilos of mangoes a year; minus a total 12% of rejects and waste, and assuming only an income of a minimum 10 pesos a kilo, already that gives us a staggering 8.8 billion pesos a year, or about 191 million dollars income. If otherwise mango rejects and waste were processed, it would bring an additional total of 1.2 billion pesos, or 26 million dollars earnings. The sweetest fruits are what you find in the golden pot at the end of the rainbow.

This part I’m writing after the Congress. So, did the Congress succeed in what it itself set out to do? We now turn to the theme: “Maximizing Mango Growers’ Income Thru Cheaper Farm Inputs And Thru Processing Of Pre- And Post-Harvest Rejects.” Consider that theme now against the topics tackled in the sessions of the Congress that included:

(1) mango industry development plan
(2) high-value commercial crops
(3) presentation of Processing Technology Handbook
(4) technology transfer of mango fruit drops
(5) ethylene control (delayed ripening)
(6) process tolling agreements (for fruit drops)
(7) marketing agreements
(8) buying prices for mangoes for processing
(9) nursery accreditation
(10) parent tree registration
(11) plant material certification
(12) crop insurance
(13) lending program for fruit production
(14) integrated pest management
(15) organic fertilizers
(16) irradiation
(17) alternative flower inducers
(18) organic mango production
(19) residue limits for chemicals, and
(20) clearing houses for supply and price.

Presentations and open forums, maximum 16 hours. My verdict: Technically strong, congressionally weak. Too much, too soon. By itself, the quantity was too many subjects to tackle in 2 days; no wonder the quality of the exchanges suffered much. And yes, the sound system was poor; you could understand what was being said only if you were some 10 meters away from the microphone.

And the theme itself was also as ambitious as the total of the sessions: “Maximizing Mango Growers’ Income Thru Cheaper Farm Inputs And Thru Processing Of Pre- And Post-Harvest Rejects.” My comments on the theme alone:

(a) Why target maximum when it’s not sustainable?
(b) Why growers’ income only?
(c) Why cheaper inputs only; how about higher production efficiency?
(d) Why limit to processing of rejects?

I also noted:
6,520 mango growers in Pangasinan
106 private mango orchards of 2,831 ha
1 mango trader-exporter
39 mango buying stations & mango sprayers (San Carlos)
1 processing plant (Manaoag)
1 certified mango seedling propagator (Manaoag)

Now, why only 1 trader-exporter? In that case, there is no competition; what he says is what you get. And why only 1 processing plant? There is no economy of distance; there is increased risk of deterioration.

And why only 1 certified mango seedling propagator? How is the high quality of the seedlings guaranteed? Are they planting only one variety?

Based on the PMIFI data, I note that if your mango trees are 7-14 years old, you can earn a net income of 6,700 pesos to a hectare; if the trees are 15-16 years old, you can earn up to 163,000 pesos net per hectare in 120 days (starting from flower induction to harvest, 4 months).

I’m interested in the idle 245 days, when that hectare of mango is not productive of anything. Why not teach the mango grower multiple cropping, including other crops and some livestock? This way, there is added income and the soil is covered with vegetation all the time, to keep the soil moisture in, to enrich the soil with organic matter, and to prevent erosion.

In the Souvenir Program, the following were listed as “bottlenecks” in improving the performance of the mango industry in Pangasinan: (a) Production: High cost of production inputs, prevalence of pests and diseases, climatic factors, and lack of knowledge on good agricultural practices (GAP). (b) Post-production: lack of postharvest facilities, lack of postharvest technologies (handling, storing, transport). Since these problems were not tackled at all during the Congress, I don’t understand why they were listed there, as if they were just waiting to be solved by government, specifically the Department of Agriculture?

If I were the Secretary of Agriculture, I wouldn’t try and solve the problems of management for the mango growers, just as I wouldn’t with other crop farmers. Instead, I would assist growers and farmers in becoming their own business managers, learning how to access resources and managing these things as in a family corporation. I will put an end to the dole-out mentality of those who have less in life - government would contribute more in law while the farm families would contribute more in labor.

One thing is clear to me: Land ownership is not a requirement for productivity or efficiency of any business, including keeping the farm as a business in itself. The farm family must learn to use scarce resources, including scarce water in times of drought, scarce fertilizer in times of global warming - as commercial fertilizers emit to the atmosphere nitrous oxide, one of the major greenhouse gases.

Nobody mentioned climate change in general and/or global warming in particular. They didn’t think either was relevant; they didn’t believe the UN report; or they were misinformed. With El Niño coming this year, bringing in more heat and driving away more of the rains, mango growers, crop farmers, families, villages and towns must learn to adapt. In the case of growing mangoes, it would be wiser to provide soil cover in terms of intercrops; it would pay in the short-term and long-term to replenish the water in the watershed as they do in India (ask the ICRISAT people, or go see first my “Water Lessons Of Adarsha,” 02 November 2008, ICRISAT Watch).

Climate change is a given, not a give or take. So, I suggest that our Congressional candidates, either or both Esperon and Agabas, make climate change affirmative action part of their legislative agenda. They can also start raising the people’s consciousness even as they campaign for votes. We have to get the farmers and mango growers to realize that climate change is real, and that one part of it, which is global warming, is already threatening crops and livestock, as well as people. The higher temperatures of the day and the droughts will not go away; they will in fact increase in intensity.

Man is the cause of rapid climate change. His vehicles emit carbon dioxide; his fertilizers emit nitrous oxide; the manures of his animals emit methane. All these 3 different gases go high up into the atmosphere and reflect back to Earth the sun’s rays that should be escaping into the wild blue yonder - the greenhouse effect - causing global warming.

Mango or not mango, Conservation Agriculture is what is called for. I know we have been ignoring this in the Philippines. And if we begin to do this in this part of the country, we will show everyone that not only the best mangoes in the world come from Pangasinan, but the best act of man: respect for nature. In the end, this is respect for man.

People can adapt; crops, livestock and the fishes can hardly do the same by themselves. But we need them. We humans must help them, because that is the only way we can help ourselves.
Conserve crops.

Conserve species.
Conserve soils.
Conserve fertilizers.
Conserve water.
Conserve energy.
Conserve life.

If we do not enter the Age of Conservation, we will be forced to enter the Age of Conclusion - the Age will conclude us!

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