Most probably the mangoes you have just purchased for your family might be health hazardous on the ground that this ‘king of fruit’ likely to be ripened with the help of a chemical substance called calcium carbide and known in farmers community as ‘carpet’.

Pakistan is sixth or seventh largest country in the world that produces over 1.9 million tons of mangoes but unfortunately could export only a meager amount of 0.1 million tons. Rest of 1.8 million tons fruit is being consumed locally while 25 per cent of total production is being wasted in post-harvest process on the pretext of mishandling and bad packing.

Pakistan is a fortunate country as it has had over 100 verities in mangoes while the entire stocks of mangoes usually come from Hyderabad, Mirpurkhas and Tando Allahyar, the areas first to witness mango harvesting in the country. The mango harvesting later begins in Tando Mohammad Khan, Hala, Matiari, Nawabshah, Tharooshah, Naushehro Feroz, followed by Rahimyar Khan, Multan and other areas in Punjab.

Decades ago, it was a customary that farmers used onions and quilts for ripening mangoes but it took too much time and beauty of fruit could not be maintained while skin of fruit remained green. Now farmers have turned to calcium carbide because the method was cost-efficient, easier and gave excellent results. Now-a-days, fruits and veggies are being matured with the help of calcium carbide because all fruits and veggies evenly ripen in this way and they neither become too soft nor too hard for consumption. It is hard fact that if mangoes are left on trees for ripening naturally, there are risks that they would get damage due to weather conditions. Ripening process on trees is also time taken and farmers cannot bear the loss of procuring their produce in market late and eventually not getting better price of their hard work of a whole year. Besides this, mangoes do not properly ripen; some get too soft and some remain raw from inside, though their colour may change.

However, FPCCI Standing Committee on Horticulture Chairman Jawad Ahmad doesn’t agree with the notion that the chemical agent calcium carbide being used to ripen mangoes is harmful for human beings. He also doesn’t agree that fruit’s quality becomes worse or its taste changes after using artificial ripening agent. According to him, when farmers put packets of chemical substance calcium carbide (CC) in wooden crates, mangoes skin becomes thin while its colour becomes yellow in an even way but luckily its pulp does not affect. He further said that now consumers first see the cosmetic beauty of fruit and if found mangoes good-looking and packing in a good way, they purchase it. They never consume ‘king of fruit’ if not properly cleaned and placed in heaps.

Jawad Ahmad revealed another stunning fact that though calcium carbide has been banned throughout the world including India for ripening fruits and vegetables but so far no country in the world had asked Pakistani mango exporters to abandon use of this chemical. Even European, Gulf countries and America who are very sensitive in importing food stuff had not raised any objection on using this chemical agent for ripening purpose. He also quoted an example that he and his kith and kin have been consuming mangoes ripened through calcium carbide since his childhood but no one lodged any complaint of being hazardous for human beings.

However, he stressed the need of setting up Mango Development Centres in the country where they could be ripened through modern techniques; he said adding that in developed countries including Thailand and India ripening chambers have been set up at processing plants, where mangoes are being treated with controlled purified gases, usually artificial ethylene. All safety precautions, he said, are being observed there and there is no question of harmful residues since fruit does not come in direct contact with any chemicals, he added.

Jawad Ahmad further said that a local farmer usually uses two packets of calcium carbide in a crate containing almost 27 mangoes and about one kilogram of calcium carbide is enough to ripen 15 to 16 crates of mangoes. He further said that as this chemical agent is easily available in the country so it is being sold at Rs 100 per kg everywhere.

Chairman FPCCI Standing Committee on Horticulture Jawad Ahmad further revealed that cheap chemical compound is also used for ripening many other fruits including apricots, bananas, papayas, plums and Japanese fruit.

Jawad Ahmad was of the view that researchers in the country have not yet determined the diseases being caused of this chemical agent. He said some researchers believed that regular intake of fruits ripens by chemical may cause irritation of digestive system, diarrhea, jaundice and liver failure while other suppose carbide plays a major role in the ageing process as well as in the onset of cancer, heart disease, stroke, arthritis and perhaps allergies.

However, he admitted that calcium carbide is a very strong reactive chemical that has carcinogenic properties and is, in fact, being used in gas welding for steel goods, he added.

Jawad Ahmad was of the opinion that it is unfortunate that so far no provincial governments in the country have chalked out a system of delivering useful information to farmers regarding their produces. He said that, for example, immature mangoes should not come into market and provincial government should inform farmers how and when they should harvest their fruit so that they could get maximum price of their hard work. He claimed that this year farmers of Sindh should be given instructions that they should not pluck their mangoes before June 1st. But unfortunately their produce came into market before mid-May. This immature mango ultimately goes wasted as consumers when do not find traditional taste, aroma and fragrance of mango, they waited for few days more and resultantly a large chunk of Sindh mangoes go wasted, he added.

He further informed that so far mango export shipment by sea is around 35 per cent and by air it is around 50 per cent while Jeddah and Dubai are the hubs of Pakistani mangoes and almost 25 tons of mangoes are being exported to these two port cities on daily basis, he added..

It is high time that government should strictly ban the use of calcium carbide in ripening fruits and veggies in the country and imposes heavy fines and give exemplary punishments to non-complier farmers and extends all-out facilities to farmers and traders which are prevailing globally including India and Thailand in ripening fruits and vegetables.