Bangladesh mango farmers devastated as cyclone scythes harvest hopes

  • News Desk,
    Published: 2020-05-22 14:10:12 BdST

Cyclone Amphan has dealt a crushing blow to Bangladesh's mango growers, already beleaguered by a coronavirus crisis, as they stare at huge losses from the widespread damage it caused to orchards and fruits ripe for its seasonal harvest.

The cyclone barrelled into the country's southern coasts from the Bay of Bengal on Wednesday and carved a trail of destruction as it moved inland at night generating strong winds and heavy rainfall.

At least 22 deaths have been reported from eight coastal districts in Bangladesh until Thursday noon as the storm tore down homes and foliage while ravaging the power supply.

Initial government estimates put the figure of damage incurred by housing, infrastructure, fisheries and livestock, water resources and agriculture in Bangladesh at Tk 11 billion.

In several districts in the west and south-west of the country, thousands of hectares of lands are used for the cultivation of mangoes.

Typically, farmers start plucking mangoes midway through May every year while authorities set specific timeframes for its harvest in different districts.

Primary data indicates the cyclone laid waste to 176,000 hectares of crop yields across the country, Agriculture Minister Abdur Razzaque said an online media briefing. The government estimates that the storm damaged 10 percent of the 7,384 hectares used to cultivate mangoes.

Orchards in Satkhira bore the brunt of the cyclone's rage with 60-70 percent of district’s total cultivation lying in tatters. Local authorities were asked to purchase the mangoes blown off the trees by gusting winds and distribute them among the poor as aid, according to Razzaque.

Rajshahi Department of Agricultural Extension (DAE) Deputy Director Shamsul Haque estimates that about 15 percent of the mango harvest has been lost because of the storm. But Deputy Commissioner Hamidul Haque believes the damage extends to about 20 percent of the cultivation.

Rajshahi registered maximum wind speeds of 59 kmph in the early hours of Thursday, and recorded an average rainfall of 81mm over a 24-hour stretch from 6am Wednesday.

Farmers in Chapainawabganj said 20 to 40 percent mangoes fell from trees although the DAE claims only five percent of the fruits were damaged in the district.

Most orchards in Naogaon, the country's biggest mango-producing district, are also reeling as farmers said trees shed about 10 to 25 percent of mangoes during the storm, which equates to a loss of almost one billion takas, according to locals.

Naogaon DAE, however, said only three to five percent mangoes fell from trees but they were yet to assess the actual scale of damage.

Meanwhile, despite a productive yield this year in Meherpur, mango farmers were already in trouble after the coronavirus pandemic cut off foreign trade. Their woes were exacerbated by the impact of Amphan which crushed any hopes that they had with the impending harvest.

Local mango orchard owners and traders said this was the gravest crisis they've faced in recent memory.

According to Meherpur DAE official Akhteruzzaman, the district harbours about 12,000 orchards of varying sizes. But the storms and ravaging winds clipped 90 percent of the mangoes from the trees.

Meherpur Deputy Commissioner Ataul Gani said the authorities are working on assessing the damage and looking into the steps that can be taken to mitigate the losses.