Prices of mangoes have shot through the roof, from  ₹30-150 per kg in the local market last year to  ₹80-300 per kg this year (Photo: HT)


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In Uttar Pradesh, one of the most important mango growing regions of India, mango starts flowering in February. When the temperature reaches 30–32 °C, the white flowers turn into small green leaves, which later become fleshy yellow fruits.

This year, Ali said, most of the trees in his 40-acre orchard did not produce flowers; Or raw green mangoes fell as temperatures rise. “The heat wave in March destroyed the crops,” Ali said. he had invested This year ended with a loss of 50 lakhs but 30 million.

Mango is inseparable from the feel of the Indian summer, its sweetness being a reward for the scorching heat. With mango production on about 2.2 million hectares of land, the crop is also an important source of income for the farmers. According to the Ministry of Agriculture, India produced 20.38 million tonnes of mango in the 2019-20 crop year (July-June).

Farmers grow 20-25 commercial varieties of mango spread over a wide geographical area, from Uttar Pradesh to Gujarat, from West Bengal to Tamil Nadu. But barring Maharashtra, erratic weather events since last winter have jeopardized mango production in all other regions.

“This year’s total mango production is estimated to be 40-45 per cent lower than last year’s,” said a scientist from the Indian Institute of Horticultural Research (IIHR), Bengaluru. As a result, mango prices have fallen below the ceiling. 30-150 per kg in the local market last year 80-300 per kg this year.

In a regular year, April marks the beginning of the mango season which lasts till October. But the wild weather has left experts to speculate. Experts say that the mango season in some parts of the country may last longer this time, but the reduction in production will keep the prices up.

weather the storm

“For the last four-five years, erratic rainfall has affected mango production in the country, especially in southern India,” said the IIHR scientist. But this year, almost the entire country’s mango production was affected by irregular, even extreme. weather.”

Good mango season requires the right temperature at the right time—cool and dry weather in October-December for the trees to flower; And medium heat around March for the ripening of green fruits. Last November, unexpected rains in many mango-growing regions of India replaced the cool and dry winds with moisture. The flowers either withered or stopped blooming.

In South India, heavy rainfall disrupted flowering, while Cyclone Asani left a trail of damage in the west. “The strong winds of the cyclone uprooted many trees. Those who survived lost all their raw mangoes,” said Akshay Gajera, a farmer and supplier of Gir Kesar mango varieties. Most of the trees Gajra lost were 40-60 years old.

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It takes time for a mango plant to become a tree. They often take 3-4 years to produce any fruit; And they reach maximum productivity between the ages of 12 and 50. Gajra losses are likely to increase in the coming years. For farmers like Ali, a heat wave in northern India in March-April scorched the crop. Uttar Pradesh, one of the major mango producers of India, produces an average of 40-45 lakh metric tonnes of fruit every year.

Ali, president of Mango Growers Association of India, said, “This year, production has dropped to 6-7 lakh metric tonnes, affecting all 14 mango belts of Uttar Pradesh. More than 60% mangoes have already been harvested. .And there is not much left on the trees. This year, North Indian mangoes will soon disappear from the market.”

The decline in quality has an impact on the mango market as well as the processing industry using the fruit in pickles, jams, chutneys. “Processing machines in the industry are made for mangoes of certain sizes. When the shape of mango is irregular and does not match the parameters of the machine, the entire processing chain gets disrupted,” said Raunak Gokhale, who works with mango processing units at a beverage company (Parle Agro in Mumbai). and currently serves as the Head of Strategy for CNH Industrial, which manufactures agricultural machinery.

The processing industry prefers mangoes with thick fleshy flesh, thin skin and small seeds. The Totapuri mango from Karnataka ticks those boxes and is a favorite in the beverage sector. “But the production level of Totapuri is about 30% less than last year. Rising costs due to lower production and increase in labor and agricultural inputs will translate into a 40-50% increase in price,” says Gokhale.

Mostly, small businesses are involved in turning mangoes into pickles, jams, jellies and other processed foods. Gajera warns that it may be difficult for small businesses to sustain themselves given the rise in prices of mangoes.

pests and prices

Unseasonal rain not only hinders the development of flowers or fruits, but also invites pests. The horticulturist said, “Moisture in the air attracts insects to attack the crops. This prompts the farmers to spend more on pesticides, which increases their cost. But only to kill the pests. Using chemicals is not a solution,” he explained. Rain often washes away insecticides, rendering them ineffective.

Every season, government extension officers and scientists advise farmers on drugs to use at different stages of mango production—one during flowering, the other during fruit development. But, when trees, in an effort to adapt to changing cues in the environment, develop fruit and flowers simultaneously, farmers become confused as to which practices to adopt. This also increases the cost of managing the orchards. “We are looking at a complex issue for which there is no clear answer,” said the scientist.

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Ali said adulteration in pesticides has added to the challenge. “We have complained several times to the authorities about spurious chemicals which are available in the market, but we have not found any solution,” he said. Researchers suggest that India’s counterfeit chemical market is growing and has captured about 30% of the market. Quantity. Ali said that if the trees got the right dose of the right medicine, the farmers could reduce their losses.

Some scientists say that everything is not over. Mango season in India is long, some varieties are harvested in September-October. This year, that timeline may be different. Mango can be available in the market for a long time. This gives hope to the IIHR scientist. “Farmers may even make a small profit in subsequent months.” But farmers like Ali have been facing difficulties for a long time. “Many trees in mango orchards are over 90 years old. Like us humans, these trees also lose their productivity over a period of time.”

export confusion

Farmers are suffering for a long time,” said Dr. Shailendra Rajan, former director of Central Institute of Subtropical Horticulture, Lucknow. The free climate has added to the difficulty in making decent income from mangoes.

For example, all mango farmers are slaughtered in summer is a myth. Early season mangoes like Alphonso of Maharashtra often fetch good prices. “It’s the first mango of the season and mango lovers are often happy to pay the premium price.” But mangoes from north India often end up in the market, forcing farmers to settle on lower prices, Rajan explained.

Export market is also not a solution for many reasons. “It is a common misconception that all Indian mango varieties are high earning proposition for export,” Rajan said.

India is the largest producer of mangoes in the world, accounting for more than half of the world’s production. But it lags behind when it comes to exports – it doesn’t even count among the top five exporters (followed by Thailand, Mexico, the Netherlands, Peru and Brazil). India exports less than 10% of its production, but most of it goes to countries with a large number of overseas Indians. “Most mangoes are sent to countries like Dubai, South Arabia, Middle East, UK,” Rajan said. Recently, there has been a push to explore the market in the US. In 2020-21, India exported 21,033 metric tonnes of fresh mangoes, price 271.84 crore, according to the Agricultural and Processed Food Products Export Development Authority (APEDA) – from 49,658 tonnes exported in 2019-20, a sharp drop due to Covid.

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It is often difficult to transport a highly perishable commodity like mango. It takes too long to send them by sea to the high-paying export areas; Air freight is very expensive. Mango growing areas off the coast like Uttar Pradesh often sell the produce in the domestic market. The southern and western varieties of mangoes – such as Bainganpally and Alphonso – usually produced near the coastal areas – are exported.

It’s also a matter of taste. “The sweetness grade of Indian mangoes is higher than mangoes from other countries like Brazil or Peru, which are preferred abroad. Also phytosanitary standards (which demand less presence of chemical residues in a product) have kept Indian mangoes away from export markets, especially the European one,” Rajan said.

Traders fear that the level of exports may fall further due to lower production and increased domestic prices.

protect the farmer

Ali and several other associations have requested governments to offer compensation for crop losses, but have received no assurance. “Like wheat or rice farmers, we too should be offered some relief to deal with the losses due to climatic conditions,” Ali said.

The IIHR scientist agreed: “MSP for commercial mango varieties can help farmers and the mango economy.” Besides, timely crop protection advice from the Horticulture Department in local dialect should reach the farmers so that they can manage the crop well, he said.

He appreciated the role of APEDA in promoting exports by developing mango clusters across the country. He said that by adopting good agricultural practices, the demand of Indian mangoes in the international market will also increase.

Ali, however, is at the receiving end of his optimism. “Farmers just want their trees to be felled and out. There is no advantage (no use). We don’t know what else to do, but maybe we should look to other areas. Perhaps factories should be set up here instead of trees. Let some gardens be preserved for tourists.”

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