New Delhi: The scrumptious mango, often referred to as the ‘king of fruits’ and a sought-after treat in the peak of summer, has witnessed a major drop in production as well as quality across the country this year due to extreme weather conditions. The low production is likely to bump up the cost of the pulpy fruit by as much as 60 per cent.
Agricultural scientists ThePrint spoke to said that climate change, including soaring temperatures and a reduction in rainfall, has reduced mango crop production by 30 per cent in the last one year. Production may come down by another 25-30 per cent in the coming years, they added.
Other factors affecting mango production include pest attacks, and the lingering after-effects of Cyclone Tauktae, which battered the western-coast states of Gujarat and Maharashtra last May.
While mango-producing states like Gujarat, Bihar and Uttar Pradesh have this year seen yield dropping to as low as 20 per cent of their usual production capacity by some estimates, Maharashtra saw a short but successful season, though the quality of the mangoes has not been up to the mark, farmers and traders from the four states told ThePrint.
India produces around 15.03 million tonnes of mango annually, according to the Agricultural and Processed Food Products Export Development Authority (APEDA), the government agency responsible for export promotion of fresh vegetables and fruits.
The country’s major mango-growing states are UP (23.86 per cent), Andhra Pradesh (22.14 per cent), Karnataka (11.71 per cent), Bihar (8.79 per cent), Gujarat (6 per cent), and Tamil Nadu (5.09 per cent).
Planting is usually done in July-August in rainfed areas and in February-March in irrigated areas. In heavy rainfall zones, planting is taken up at the end of the rainy season.
India is also a leading exporter of mangoes, contributing 40.48 per cent of the total world production. According to APEDA data, it exported over 21,000 metric tonnes (MT) of fresh mangoes, worth over Rs 271 crore, in 2020-21.
From Rs 400-600 to Rs 1,100-1,450 for a 10-kg box of mangoes
Vimal Kanabar, a trader who owns a mango orchard in Gujarat, told ThePrint that this has been the worst year in two decades for the Kesar variety of mango, which is primarily grown in Junagadh, Gir-Somnath and Amreli districts.
“Since 26 April, the auction for mangoes has been going on at local mandis. The season usually starts with about 40,000-60,000 boxes of mangoes coming in per day. But this year, even during peak summer, we are getting only 5,000 boxes,” he added.
“On the first day of the auction, we had a mere 3,850 mango boxes come in. Each box weighs 10 kg and the price this year is between Rs 1,100 and 1,450 per box. Until last year, we would sell these boxes at Rs 400-600 each,” said Kanabar.
This has happened because of the short flowering cycle of mangoes, which was affected by unexpected change in temperature.
For Kesar, the variety that forms 25 per cent of mango exports from India, the impact of Cyclone Tauktae continues to linger. “Last year, around 70 per cent of mango trees along the Talala-Gir belt were lost in the cyclone. The trees that are left this year gave a very poor yield of only up to 20 per cent,” Kanabar said.
Meanwhile, in Bihar’s Bhagalpur, Ashok Choudhary, who owns a 12-acre mango farm, has a similar tale to tell: “The crop has faced the dual wrath of the sun and the pests. If there is no rain this week, all our produce will go bad because of the pests.”
Choudhary, who is also president of the Bihar Mango Growers’ Association, said the pest attacks have come at a time when farmers usually pluck the fruit from the trees, adding that they cannot even use pesticide at this point.
According to Padma Shri awardee Haji Kalimullah Khan, also known as ‘Mango Man’, in Uttar Pradesh’s Malihabad, which is famous for growing some of the most popular mango varieties including Dussehri and Langda, “the situation is so bad this year that if there are 100 mango trees, only 10-12 bear fruits”.
Khan’s son Lazimullah, who is also a mango grower, told ThePrint, “The cost of mangoes is expected to go up by around 60 per cent.”
In Maharashtra, farmers are complaining about their produce being spoiled by fruit flies, a trader from the APMC wholesale market in Navi Mumbai’s Vashi told ThePrint.
“The number of mangoes turning out rotten on the inside has increased by 20 per cent. Their replacement cost has increased the final cost of the product per box,” he added.
How climate change played a role
M. Feza Ahmad, professor and chief scientist at Bihar Agricultural University, told ThePrint that the effect of climate change has been extreme this year.
“When the trees were bearing flowers, the weather was too cold, and when it was the time for the tree to bear fruits, the weather kept fluctuating for about two weeks. And then the weather became too hot suddenly, so mangoes started over-ripening and falling off the trees. All these factors affected the crop produce and reduced it by 30 per cent,” he said.
He further said that the weather became too hot in March itself, and the mango trees were attacked by an insect called the red-banded mango caterpillar (Scientific name Deanolis sublimbalis), which affected the remaining fruits as well, which started falling off the trees.
Isram Ali, a mango farmer from Uttar Pradesh and president of the Mango Growers’ Association of India, also blamed the drop in production on external factors.
“There are duplicate pesticides in the market, which force farmers to increase the quantity of chemicals they use. We need more agricultural experts to look into mango production,” he added.
According to Ali, while UP produced around 40 lakh MT of mangoes last year, this year they are not even expecting it to reach 10-12 lakh MT.
Sales and export
According to traders, Cyclone Tauktae’s estimated impact on mango sales was upwards of Rs 500 crore. This was in addition to losses incurred due to the demand plunge during the Covid-19 lockdowns.
This year, the condition of mango traders and exporters seems to have worsened.
While the wholesale price of popular mango varieties like Malda and Jardalu was Rs 20-30 per kg last year, the same is expected to go up to Rs 30-40 per kg this year, said Mango Growers’ Association of India president Ali, adding: “This means that when the mangoes finally reach the consumer, the price will be more than Rs 100 per kg.”
“A lot of exporters invest directly in farms and this year they have lost investment worth lakhs the trees did not bear fruits. Though we will start exporting mangoes June onwards, we expect their prices to be up by 20 per cent this year,” Shaizad Khan, an exporter from Uttar Pradesh, told ThePrint.
(Edited by Gitanjali Das)