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Photo: HT
Photo: HT

Even the king of fruits becomes a slave to the lockdown

Farmers growing premium varieties of mangoes are struggling to find buyers due to a lockdown-induced fall in incomes

Noshirwan Mistry has been unable to visit his farm since the lockdown was announced.

He lives in Mumbai, among the cities worst hit by the coronavirus pandemic, but owns an organic mango orchard in Dapoli, a coastal town in Ratnagiri district famed for the Alphonso cultivar of mangoes. The variety known for its rich flavour and sweetness is largely exported, and commands a premium in the domestic market. But the lockdown has spelt unending worries for growers like Mistry.

“I have no option but to convert the mangoes to pulp," Mistry said over phone. “Transport is not available and labourers who used to travel from neighbouring areas and stay a month during harvest could not come this year."

As a good harvest comes once in two years, Mistry will have to wait till 2022 to recoup his losses.

The disruption in the supply chain means Mistry lost out on his expected farmgate price of 40 per kg,which is itself quite modest as Alphonsos are hard to obtain even at 250 a kg in the national capital region.

The March-to-July mango season in India begins with harvests in southern states such as Kerala, followed by Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh and Maharashtra. By the end of May, varieties such as chausa and dasheri from Uttar Pradesh take over the northern market.

The distress this year is widespread. In Tamil Nadu, farmers growing premium varieties such as Imam Pasand are struggling to find buyers due to a lockdown-induced fall in incomes and the thin presence of street vendors, most of whom are selling the fruit at between 75 and 85 per kg.

“Those growing varieties like Totapuri are at a loss as pulp factories are shut," said Jaya Gopi, who heads a farmer producer organization in Tirupathur. “What will farmers do when transport facilities are not available? Mangoes ripen fast and a few hours of delay during transit can be damaging. Without financial support from the government, growers will be forced to dig trenches and bury the fruit."

However, the lockdown has also opened up new avenues. For instance, the Mango Growers’ Cooperative Society in Devgad, Maharashtra, is directly supplying to apartment complexes in Mumbai and Pune, bypassing traditional intermediaries. This has helped growers receive prices between 1,500 and 2,400 for a crate of six dozen Alphonsos, up from 500 a crate in the initial days of the lockdown.

In early April, the Karnataka Mango Development and Marketing Corporation launched a business-to-consumer portal connecting housing societies in Bengaluru to growers. “Growers have sold more than 10,000 boxes of mangoes. We are using post offices for delivery and allowing farmers access to milk booths to sell their harvest," said C.G. Nagaraj, managing director of the corporation.

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