Search
+

    Lockdown blues hurt king of fruits

    Synopsis

    The Alphonso, the uncrowned king of mangoes, is having a rather rough reign this Indian summer.

    The Alphonso, the uncrowned king of mangoes, is having a rather rough reign this Indian summer. An unprecedented lockdown stalled its traditional late-spring journey from the famed Western Ghats to the colonial-era Crawford Market, or downtown Mumbai’s answer to New Covent Garden, where the best of the Alphonso breed ultimately ends up. Also, an extended spell of rains last monsoons stretched the winters in the peninsula, causing such crop shrinkage that traders in the prized cultivar don’t expect to recoup their investments this year. Prashant Sonavane is one such small trader, represen- tative of many that take on annual lease these orchards in the Kon- kan, home to the world-famous mango variety named after the 16th century Portuguese empire builder Afonso de Albuquerque.

    When the first phase of the lockdown was announced, about 10,000 boxes of the juiciest Alphonso mangoes were ready to be sent to the city markets from the Konkan orchards. Only a fraction of those were ultimately sold – not enough to recover Sonavane’s lease costs. Many traders whose shops are in the containment zone, had no business. In my 52 years in the family business of mangoes, that started in 1936, this was one the worst years I have seen," PL Khaire, a veteran mango trader from Pune. "Had the arrival of the first fruit not been delayed, I could have been able to sell them in February before the lockdown was announced and reduced some losses," said Sonavane.

    THE WEATHER PLAYS FOUL
    The king of fruits usually begins arriving in the cities from February. As the summer progresses from the southern peninsula to the northern heartland, so does the arrival of mangoes, beginning with Kerala and then heading progressively north. But this year, the weather did not cooperate. Rains last year stretched well into the autumn, and the winters had an extended run in a part of the country where air-conditioners are a permanent fixture since early February. And storms were rather aplenty this season, hitting farm produce throughout the mango-growing regions of India. "This year, the production of mangoes from Andhra Pradesh and Telangana is only half of the normal but customers are also less," said Vijay Dua, president of Mango Merchants' Association of UP Mangoes.

    Insram Ali, president, All India Mango Growers’ Association said: “Because of storms, many fruits fell prematurely. The total annual turnover of the mango business in Uttar Pradesh is about Rs 8,000-10,000 crore. Every year, traders come to UP to buy the output of orchards in advance. This year, 50% of the orchards still remain unsold." To be sure, low prices for farmers did not mean consumers got the fruit cheap. In fact, the smallest size Alphonso is still selling at Rs 600 a dozen in the cities of Maharashtra, the worst-hit by Covid-19 in India.

    Mango processors, too, are faced with difficulties. “Our customers, the largest MNCs and big Indian companies that make mango-based cold drinks, have said that they will be able to buy just about 50% of their normal requirement of the mango pulp as they could not liquidate their previous year’s stock,” said a top executive at one of India’s largest mango processing companies.

    THE COVENT GARDEN SHELVES
    India exported fresh mangoes worth Rs 406.5 crore in 2018-19 with the UAE, UK, Oman, Qatar, and the US as the top five export destinations. The US sends its own inspector to the export facilities in India. This year, the lockdown ensured that wouldn’t happen. "There was confusion after the lockdown was announced, which stopped the operations at ports,” said Sanjay Pansare, a mango exporter from Mumbai. “The factories supplying packaging material required for exports were not operational. Now, exports by the sea route have started, with the government helping restart these operations." There are challenges on manpower availability, and freight rates remain rather high.

    Separately, the grounding of flights has had a severe impact on mango exports by air. "After passenger flights came to a halt, the rates of cargo flights and those converted into freighters have increased almost three times. The increase in freight rates has led to the doubling of consumer prices in Europe, which resulted in more than 60% fall in our exports," said Kaushal Khakhar, chief executive officer, Kay Bee Exports.

    FARM TO FORK
    Back home, the lockdown has created the farm-to-fork sales channel, with housing societies emerging as bulk consumers, said Uday Deshmukh, a senior government official in Maharashtra's Agriculture Department.
    (Catch all the Business News, Breaking News Events and Latest News Updates on The Economic Times.)

    Also Read

    1 Comment on this Story

    Devidas Telakat83 days ago
    Nature's fury does not wait for politician's consent.It is only a matter of time before it catches them too.
    The Economic Times