By Henry Empeño
IBA, Zambales — It was the Dinamulag Mango Festival here last week, but visitors who trooped to this capital town to witness the event promoting this province’s summer bestseller, the world-famous carabao mango, were a bit disappointed with supply scarcity and the attendant high price.
At the stalls near the festival area, ripe mangoes were priced as much as P130 to P150 per kilo, depending on the quality, while green ones fetched prices from P100 to P120.
“Masyadong mahal (It’s so expensive),” complained Alexander Galang of Olongapo City, who brought several friends over to watch the mango-themed street dance contest and to buy mangoes for “pasalubong.” “Noong mga nakaraang mga Mango Festival, P60 hanggang P80 lang ang isang kilo at export quality pa (During the recent mango festivals here, you can buy a kilo from P60 to P80 and they’re export quality to boot).”
The problem, said Russell Quitaneg, acting provincial agriculture officer, is rampant infestation by mango cecid fly, a mosquito-like insect that lays eggs on young mango leaves, flowers and fruits, and in the process curling the leaves and causing them to fall off, along with flowers or fruits.
Meanwhile, infested fruits that remain on trees produce circular, brown to black scab-like spots that blemish the fruit, causing a drop in quality and price.
Quitaneg said the cecid fly (Procantarinia sp.), also known as leaf gall midge and “kurikong mangga” in the vernacular, has affected around 8,000 fruit-bearing mango trees across the province.
He said that from the average production of 10,000 to 15,000 metric tons, Zambales growers managed to produce only 7,000 metric tons this season.
“Sugal na ang pagma-mangga ngayon (It’s a big gamble to grow mangoes these days), Quitaneg said. “Masyadong unpredictable (It’s too unpredictable).”
He said that combined with abnormal weather patterns that bring rains during the mango flowering season, the cecid fly infestation had damaged around 80 percent of the mango production in Zambales this year.
Mango growers from both the northern and southern parts of Zambales echo Quitaneg’s lamentations.
Evelyn Grace, who has been growing and trading mangoes for decades now under her Green Thumb label in Candelaria town north of the province, said that they were able to harvest only 30 percent of the fruits that came out. The rest fell off because of the infestation.
“Umiiyak ngayon ang mga magma-mangga (The mango growers are crying now),” she said. “First time na ganito kaunti ang ani, kaya mahal ang presyo (It was the first time for us to harvest so little, that is why the price is so high).”
She added that the unpredictable weather also substantially affects the local mango industry. “Noon alam mo kung anong buwan dapat mag-spray at mag-harvest. Ngayon, may ulan ng December, January. Nasisira din ang mga bulaklak (Before, you would know when to spray and when to harvest. But now it rains even in December and January, and this destroys the flowers).”
Oscar Cabatit, a mango farmer and contract sprayer in the southern town of San Marcelino, also reported poor harvest because of cecid fly infestation and the change in the weather.
“Hindi kami talaga nagba-bagging doon sa south, kaya maraming mangga ang nasira (We don’t usually practice bagging in the south, so a lot of fruits were damaged),” he noted. “Ngayon, natututo na kaming mag-bagging, pero karamihan ay huli na (Now we’re learning the importance of bagging, although it was already late for most of us).”
Both Grace and Cabatit acknowledged that bagging helped reduce the infestation, and that the damage was less prevalent in farms that practiced sanitation.
Cabatit also noted that there was less infestation among mango trees located along the highway. “Baka naman ayaw nila sa ingay (It could be that the cecid flies do not like noise),” he theorized.
Quitaneg said cecid fly infestation has been around the province since three years ago, but it was only now that the infestation has become widespread.
He said that growers are advised to practice pruning after harvest to let in sunlight that kill the pests, clean up farms especially under mango trees because the flies live on vegetation and organic wastes, and to practice bagging of mango fruits as early as 33 days after the small fruits come out to prevent fruit damage.
Some farmers, he added, had begun spraying pesticides at night to kill the pests because the cecid flies are nocturnal or active at night.
Despite the damage from cecid fly infestation, Grace said that there is still hope for visitors who went to Zambales to buy mangoes at in-season prices because the mango harvests in Zambales are often staggered.
“Mayroon pang expected na ani hanggang Mayo at Hunyo. O kaya kahit hanggang Hulyo pa para doon sa nag-second spray matapos masira ang una (We still expect harvest until May or June, or even up to July for those who sprayed again after losing the first crop),” Grace said.
But again that hope would hinge on the X factor—unseasonal showers. “Depende pa rin lahat sa panahon. Kapag umulan na, talo na (A lot would still depend on the weather. When it rains, we’d lose again.”
PHOTOS: A vendor in Iba, Zambales displays luscious carabao mangoes, reputedly among the sweetest and most tasty varieties in the whole world and the province’s summer bestseller (top); The world-famous Zambales carabao mangoes (insert).