Cultivators and traders of the Alphonso mango in Konkan are left with a sour taste as COVID19, unseasonal rains and excessive heat severely bruise the fruit’s large annual exports. And now, the new corona restrictions in the state and the second lockdown may make matters worse.
The sweet, distinctively flavoured, saffron-hued Alphonso is counted among the most expensive mangoes in the country. Photo: Natoora/flickr
Indian summers are synonymous with mangoes. And in the western state of Maharashtra, the Alphonso rules. But this year, the sweetness is missing. The cultivators and traders in Ratnagiri and Sindhudurg districts in the Konkan region of Maharashtra, where the famous Alphonso grows, are distraught as COVID-19, natural calamities such as unseasonal rains and excessive heat have taken their toll.
And now, the second wave of the pandemic has delivered a further blow. Maharashtra, one of the worst COVID-19 affected states, has been put under a strict weekend lockdown and daily night curfew by the state Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray.
The Alphonso that generates considerable revenue through exports, has taken a further beating thanks to the restrictions on international air services.
“The number of Alphonso mangoes (average fruit on trees) has decreased by more than forty per cent over the last year,” Rakesh Wadgekar, an Alphonso mango cultivator from Devgarh village in Sindhudurg district, told Gaon Connection. “It is because the temperature at several places in Konkan had averaged between 34 and 42 degrees (Celsius) in March this year. That is too hot for the Alphonso and it drops down from the tree before ripening,” he explained.
“Last year, my seven hundred trees yielded four to five thousand mangoes. But this year I do not expect the yield to be more than two thousand five hundred. My income will also decline by about half from last year,” he surmised.
Alphonso is currently selling at Rs 200 per kilo. But when mangoes from the states of Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Karnataka come into the market in the month of May, the prices will fall, Wadgekar said.
The sweet, distinctively flavoured, saffron-hued Alphonso, weighing anything between 100 to 300 grams, is counted among the most expensive mangoes in the country.
“The Konkan mango arrives as early as February-March and mango lovers are willing to pay more for it,” Nandkumar Valanju, an exporter of the Alphonso in Kolhapur, told Gaon Connection. Besides, he explained, this variety of mango kept good for a week after ripening and, therefore, was perfect for exporting too.
Nearly 60 per cent of the total annual income from Konkan’s Alphonso mangoes comes from exports to Gulf countries, parts of Asia, Europe and the Americas, said Valanju. So, more exports mean more profits and happier farmers and traders.
In Maharashtra, the mangoes from across Konkan are first purchased and consolidated through the Agricultural Produce Marketing Committee (APMC) at the state capital Mumbai, from where they are transported to other parts of the country.
A greater number of Alphonso mangoes are shipped abroad from Mumbai to Saudi Arabia, Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Singapore and Malaysia. A sizable number is also sent off to many European and American countries. Traders who export to the foreign countries sell them at high prices.
While the mangoes have already come into the market, the exports have shrunk significantly this year, said Valanju.
“The exporter has to pay about sixty five rupees per dozen mangoes in order to send them through a passenger aircraft,” Yunus, a trader associated with the export of Alphonso in Navi Mumbai, told Gaon Connection. “But if he sends them through a cargo plane, his cost goes up to hundred and forty rupees a dozen. This is one reason why many traders are reluctant to send the mangoes through cargo aircraft,” he explained.
Last year, when the Konkan’s mango farmers were affected by the COVID-19 lockdown, the Maharashtra State Marketing Corporation helped them send their mangoes across the country.
“A large quantity of Alphonso mangoes had already been exported by February-March last year. This year too, many organisations made similar plans for marketing them,” Wadgekar said. But, as a result of the disruption in air services, both the mango cultivators and traders are suffering.
“The export of Alphonso mangoes has come down significantly this time. We used to earn the highest profit from the exports to the Gulf countries but this year, the demand has gone down too,” rued Yunus. With a possible increase in airfare in the near future, things are not looking good for the king of fruits, he concluded.