Mango, jackfruit season souring? Blame it on lockdown

Blame it on the lockdown: The mango, jackfruit season is souring

A mango seller arranges different variety of fruits at his stall on TV Tower Road near Jayamahal in Bengaluru on Friday. What once housed 150 mango stalls has come down to just two due to the lockdown. DH Photo/ Pushkar V

The COVID-19 pandemic has had its impact on this year’s mango and jackfruit season. India is the largest producer in the world of both ‘kings’ of fruits. The two fruits usually come up for harvest between the end of March and the first week of June on a staggered timeline. But growers are now faced with a serious shortage of labour to pluck them, compounded by skeletal transport and wholesale market facilities. 

With the governments of mango-growing states – mainly Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Kerala, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh and Telangana -- having decided to extend the lockdown in ‘red zone’ areas, some till May-end, the situation appears to have become worse for mango and jackfruit harvesting.

This will also spell doom for the seasonal mango and jackfruit melas held all over Karnataka. The melas are popular among the people, especially in Bengaluru, Mysuru and Mangaluru which used to be visited by lakhs of people every season. These melas will now have to be shelved for this season, said officials at HOPCOMS, the organiser. 

The All-India Mango Growers’ Association (AIMGA), headquartered in Lucknow, UP, has written to all mango-growing states to issue passes to the truck operators carrying the fruit under essential services category. “The association has appealed to the chief minister of Uttar Pradesh and the surface transport ministry with a special appeal to facilitate the interstate movement of mango trucks. Depending on the availability of transport facilities, the wholesale markets will function. Ever since the lockdown, labourers have migrated away from the farms. But many units of captive labour are available in Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh and Telangana where farm operations can take place at 50% capacity,” S Insram Ali, the Lucknow-based president of the AIMGA told this writer.

According to the statistics available with the National Horticulture Board, India has 26 lakh hectares under mango cultivation, yielding over 17 million tonnes of the fruit in 13 states. India produces 50% of the world output. Most of them are the pulpy kind -- Ratnagiri Apoos, Devgadh Apoos from Maharashtra, Sindhoora from Andhra Pradesh, Mundappa and Kadri from Coastal Karnataka, Manganpalli and Bainganpalli (Benisha) Raspuri, Badami, Pairi, Neelam, Dasheri, Kent, Tom Atkins, Kesar and Fazil. In some of the growing areas, the crop will be ready for harvest only by the end of June, but 80% of the growing area is ready for harvest between March and May.

The Alphonso is also grown on a large scale in Mundgod in Uttara Kannada district. “Alphonso mangoes command premium rates in Bengaluru, Mumbai and Panaji markets. There are about 2,000 hectares of land growing this variety in Mundgod. There used to be a group of 1,000 workers from Uttar Pradesh dedicated to mango-plucking, but now, they have just vanished,” said Harish Bhimgadh, a farmer.

“Presently, the crop is ready to be harvested but we do not have adequate manpower due to the lockdown, compounded by the lack of transport, central storage facilities and the market network. The yards in several states are also under lockdown, which is a cause for worry,” say functionaries of the Karnataka State Mango Development and Marketing Corporation Limited, Bengaluru. Similar concerns have been aired by the mango marketing bodies of Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu.

According to statistics available with the AIMGA, the total value of the market operations run into a few thousand crores. In 2017 and 2018, the total turnover of the mango trade was about Rs 3,000 crore (including export). The wastage due to non-availability of transport or market connectivity even in normal times amounts to 2-3%. “I would not venture into guessing what that loss would be in the present lockdown conditions,” said Insram Ali.

One saving grace is the Mahamango, a cooperative launched by the Maharashtra state government in 1991, has created facilities for preserving mango pulp for the value-addition industry. 

Value-addition to the rescue

If the price is sliding down but the crop is still on the trees, that’s an ideal situation for value-addition. “Alphonso mango prices have dropped drastically from Rs 2,200 per dozen to Rs 2,400 for three-dozen fruits now. Even then, there are no buyers. Luckily, the pulp-makers are still working, they will salvage some percentage of the crop,” Pradeep Pai, an ice-cream maker in Mangaluru, said.

Another potential saviour is the Indian Institute of Horticultural Research (IIHR) at Hesaraghatta, on the outskirts of Bengaluru. It has tested and produced the first batch of a new probiotic mango drink, the technology for which is ready for transfer to farmers’ collectives. “We are organising a video conference with farmers from all over the country. We will showcase the probiotic drink and osmotically-dehydrated mango slices as value-added products,” IIHR scientist M R Dinesh told this writer. 

Jackfruit in the same boat

Jackfruit also hits the market at around the same time as mango. “But the jackfruit market is not as organised as the mango business. Generally, it is looked down upon. Even today, only a few parts of Karnataka have roughly a 1,000-hectares in all of organised jackfruit farms. But in terms of its nutritional value and the satisfaction quotient from its consumption is not any different than from eating a mango” says Sreepadre, a Kerala-based expert on jackfruit. “80% of the jackfruit grown in the country goes to waste as people were unaware of the nutritional value of the fruit and its value-added products to humans, livestock and wildlife till we cranked up a national-level information campaign on the jackfruit,” Sreepadre said.

(The writer is a senior journalist)