In the first week of July, the Egyptian press and talk shows reported on the low yields of the mango harvest this year, based on complaints by growers in Ismailia, home to about one third of Egypt’s mango crop.
Mangoes are a summer fruit in high demand domestically, and agriculture officials in Ismailia did not deny that there had been problems with the mango harvest this year, confirming complaints by farmers about the “black mould” that has infected some mango groves and reduced yields, according to Kamal Fathi, director of agriculture in Ismailia.
Fathi added that another reason for the lower yield of the mango crop this year was climate change, as the heatwave that slammed the east of the country in March had stressed the trees, increased evaporation from the soil, and dried out the roots. The fruit had fallen from the trees prematurely and quickly spoiled because it was unripe, he said.
“This year, we are planting 300,000 feddans of mangoes and some one million farmers and workers are servicing the groves all year round, whether for export or distribution on the domestic market,” said Mahmoud Atta, director of the Central Department of Horticulture at the Ministry of Agriculture in Cairo.
“The Ismailia governorate is home to 117,000 feddans of mango groves, and the average yield per feddan is four tons of mangoes,” he said, adding that climate change and the black mould that had infected some mango groves had reduced the yield this year from 1.2 million to one million tons.
The problems are limited to Ismailia, however, even though the heat wave impacted the entire country, possibly because “the mango groves in Ismailia are sometimes more than 25 years old,” Atta said.
“Although older trees still produce fruit, they are weaker in resisting climate change and disease compared to groves planted in the new desert areas,” he explained. “Even in Ismailiya, the newer groves did not suffer from heat stress or black mould, and the problem was limited to older areas.”
The Ismailia mango groves produce all domestic varieties of mango, including sokkari, fass, and oweis. According to Atta, the governorate’s mango production last year was 260,000 tons, and the yield from infected groves this season dropped by 40 to 90 per cent but only in limited areas.
Hussein Abu Saddam, head of the Farmers Syndicate, explained that the black mould that occurred this year is caused by the growth of fungi on the sticky honeydew left behind by insects such as aphids and scale insects on mango leaves, blocking light to the leaves and reducing photosynthesis. Abu Saddam added that the fungus is not dangerous and can be easily controlled.
He said that the number of infections was not high and would not impact the overall yield or raise the price of the fruit by much, as some have claimed. “The mould has been present in Ismailiya for the past six years. This fungus does not kill the mango trees, but it does weaken the yield to some extent,” Abu Saddam stated.
Atta said that mango production in other parts of the country including in Sharqiya, Beheira, Suez, Alexandria and Aswan was continuing, with these producing fass, hendi, mabrouka, oweis, sokkari, zebdya, taymour and seddika varieties of mangoes.
The harvest for these varieties begins in the first week of July and lasts until mid-August. There are also other imported varieties that have been grown in Egypt for years, including kit, naomi, austin and kent, and their harvest begins in mid-August and lasts until mid-October.
These varieties can be stored for longer than local mangoes.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 15 July, 2021 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.