New Delhi/Lucknow: Mango farmers across the country stand to lose almost all their income this year because of three factors they had no control over — unseasonal rains, hailstorms, and the Covid-19 lockdown.
The unseasonal downpours starting last November affected the development of flowers in mango trees, delaying the production of the fruit. Then, hailstorms between December and February damaged orchards, before the lockdown, which began on 25 March, disrupted the trade of every variety of mango.
Even before the lockdown, mango production in India was estimated to decline in 2019-20 due to the weather, despite a larger area under cultivation. The Union agriculture ministry estimated it would decrease slightly to 21.28 million tonnes from the previous year’s 21.37 million tonnes, despite the mango acreage going up to 23.09 lakh hectares in 2019-20 from the previous year’s 22.96 lakh hectares.
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The situation in UP
The situation has had a severe impact on Uttar Pradesh, the largest producer of mangoes in India, which accounts for 23.47 per cent of the total production in the country.
Mango growers in the state are facing huge losses, and their association has written a letter to Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath demanding urgent measures to protect their interests.
Insram Ali, president of the All India Mango Grower Association, told ThePrint: “Previously, UP produced around 45-50 lakh metric tonnes of mangoes, but this year it will be down to 30-35 lakh metric tonnes. We are going to face losses of more than Rs 2,000 crore this year.”
Under the lockdown, mango farmers are facing heavy losses due to lack of adequate transport and storage facilities and closure of several markets.
While the central government and various states have come to the rescue of farmers who grow foodgrains and pulses by procuring their produce at minimum support prices (MSP), horticulture farmers — the category mango farmers fall under — are not getting this support.
This has been further worsened by a freeze in the freight and logistics industry across the globe, which has halted export of mangoes.
Explaining that UP has 15 mango belts, including Malihabad, Shahbad and Saharanpur, from where mangoes are also exported to many countries, Ali added: “The UP government should immediately step in and decide a minimum support price (MSP) for the mangoes by purchasing them directly from farmers. Their loans should also be waived off for this year along with six months’ electricity bills.”
Lack of transportation, labour, packaging
Sandeep Singh, who grows the Langda variety in Varanasi district, detailed some of the problems mango farmers are currently facing.
“Earlier, for a trip from Varanasi to Delhi, transporters charged around Rs 35,000 per truck, which has now risen to as much as Rs 65,000. They fear they may not find any dhabas open for food and rest,” Sandeep Singh said.
“Farmers are not able to reach the markets be it local, regional or foreign. Even the supply of mangoes in the markets in cities like Delhi, Mumbai and Pune have been halted, and if this continues, we will suffer losses of about 70-80 per cent,” he added.
Madhavendra Deo Singh, a mango grower based in Mall village of Malihabad, said the spring weather this year has hit production by at least 35 to 40 per cent, as it rained till the end of March and the temperature remained low.
“We are facing a shortage of labourers to harvest the crop along with the unavailability of wooden boxes to store the mangoes,” he said.
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The global nature of the Covid-19 crisis has shut off export markets and also left the farmers with no means to access export-related treatment and certificates. Sanitary checks and certificates are mandatory for the export of mangoes, so even if the global markets open, farmers will not be able to sell their crop in countries in the European Union, Japan, Australia and the US without them.
Some of UP’s mango varieties, such as Malihabadi, Dasheri (or Dussehri) and Lucknow Safeda, are extremely popular in the export market.
According to the Agricultural and Processed Food Products Export Development Authority (APEDA), 46,510.23 metric tonnes of mangoes worth Rs 406.45 crore were exported in 2018-19.
Nadeem Siddiqui, president of the Mango Export Association of Uttar Pradesh, told ThePrint: “The biggest markets for UP mangoes are the UAE, UK, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Kuwait and the USA, which are more or less under lockdown. Even if the lockdown opened in May, it is difficult to get mangoes abroad. This time, exports were expected to be one and a half times more than the previous year.”
Situation grim in other states too
Apart from UP, farmers in the other major mango-producing states of India, like Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Bihar, Tamil Nadu, West Bengal and Gujarat, are also facing losses.
“Fruit farmers are the worst-hit as their produce is highly perishable with a short shelf-life. They badly need support. Mangoes can’t be stored for long like other fruits, and if not transported and sold in time, the farmers will end up with huge losses,” said V.S. Kumar, who runs an app providing farm produce marketing and solutions-related services to farmers in Andhra Pradesh and Telangana.
“There is an estimated 40 per cent drop in farm income from mango cultivation compared to last year, as even if agriculture is exempted from the lockdown, most of the trucks are not operating either due to coronavirus scare or because of the restrictions at state borders,” Kumar added.
ThePrint had earlier reported that Alphonso mango farmers in Ratnagiri-Sindhudurg on the Konkan coast of Maharashtra are facing a crisis due to soaring transportation and labour costs.
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