If there is one consolation to the demoralising heat of the Indian summer, it’s the sight of the pyramids of mangoes on carts and fruit stalls—an invitation to a luscious, fleshly sensual experience. Then there are the many varieties, the texture of each exploding with its distinctive sensory signal on the palate. It’s approaching midway of the Indian mango season, but for growers of premium and export-oriented varieties such as Alphonso, Safeda, and Banganappalli, among others, there is little joy. Yields were below expectation to start with, a rise in costs dampened moods, and the blight of COVID-19 delivered the coup de grace—distribution, important for a perishable commodity, became tedious. While farmers’ incomes plummeted, consumers end up paying higher-than-usual prices.
“The late monsoon resulted in lesser yield, which was 50-70 per cent lower for many of us,” says Prasad Subhash Jadav, a grower. He adds, “Due to the lockdown, we did not get good prices for the early-harvested crop.” In Ratnagiri (Maharashtra), which grows the famed Alphonso, orchard owners had to bank on online sales to individuals rather than bulk buyers. Market realities played a ruthless hand: it was difficult to get better prices as local traders knew export prospects were not bright.
S. Insram Ali, president, Mango Growers Association of India, says that sales of Safeda and Banganappli from Andhra Pradesh, Telengana, and Karnataka were affected by the lockdown. “Hardly 15-20 per cent of the produce was sold,” he rues. Ali is a farmer from Maliahbad, the mango heartland in Uttar Pradesh. He fears that recent hailstorm and caterpillar infestation will impact the output in his area.
Not just the king of fruits, the lockdown has impacted other horticulture crops such as banana, watermelon, pineapple, pomegranate, mosumbi and others, says national horticulture commissioner Srinivasa Murthy. “A large portion of these fruits are sold in the open market by small traders, either as fresh fruits or cut fruits and juices. Due to the lockdown, these activities have halted, hitting sales,” he explains. A stop in bulk buying by fruit and food processing units that are shut has been another blow. Sale of exotic fruits like dragon fruit and kiwi were also hit by the shutdown of the hospitality sector. Recently, a few dozen traders came together on social media to share and seek solutions to their problems.
Murthy assures that the Centre and state governments are trying to ease transportation and supply-related issues, especially since most fruits are perishable. The authorities have also eased procedures to allow exports from Mumbai port. The delectation of a freshly cut mango for dessert, it seems, shall not be denied to the world.