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Predominantly rain-fed Maharashtra mangoes lack last-mile connectivity
Thursday, 04 April, 2013, 08 : 00 AM [IST]
Akshay Kalbag, Mumbai
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Mango is a dry season crop and is mostly rain-fed. Unlike vegetables which are planted and harvested within days or weeks and are thus more likely to be affected by drought-like conditions (currently prevalent in the state of Maharashtra), mangoes are harvested from large trees which have stood for years and survive on groundwater which is deep inside, so they are not as badly affected.

Omkar Sapre, member of the board and chief marketing officer, Devgad Taluka Amba Utpadak Sahakari Sanstha Maryadit (Devgad Taluka Mango Growers' Cooperative Society Ltd), Jamsande, Devgad, Sindhudurg, said mangoes – the king of fruits – suffer from a host of other problems. He stated, “Firstly, there is inadequate last-mile connectivity between mango farms in Maharashtra to the homes of people.”

“Secondly, the price of the fruit has increased on account of the reduced subsidies in the prices of pesticides and fertilisers. Thirdly, the manpower working in the fields, particularly at the time of harvest, grading and packing the mangoes, is inadequate. Fourthly, the numbers, varieties and destructive power of pests has increased, and there is a lack of effective pesticides against them. And lastly, there must be more innovations and research in packaging, which is lacking,” he said.

Facts & figures

Sapre said, “Maharashtra has 4,82,000 hectare of land under mango cultivation, which is the largest among the Indian states. However, in terms of production of mangoes, the state, with 5,03,000 metric tonne, ranks ninth. According to data provided by the National Horticulture Database 2011-12, Uttar Pradesh, which has just 2,58,300 hectare of land under mango production, has the largest mango production (estimated to be 38,40,800 metric tonne).”

“Alphonso mangoes are predominantly grown in the Ratnagiri and Sindhudurg districts of Maharashtra. It is a table fruit, and its unique selling point is that it has a very sweet taste and a pleasant aroma and occurs rarely. The two other varieties grown in the state are Kesar and Payri. As far as Devgad is concerned, about 2,000 farmers cultivate Alphonso mangoes. The taluka produces about 50,000 tonne of mangoes,” he said.

Sapre said, “Alphonso and Kesar are exported from the state, though Alphonso comprises 90 per cent of India's mango exports. Baganapalli – a variety from the south – is also exported. Alphonso mangoes are exported to 52 countries. The United Arab Emirates (UAE) is the largest importer, followed by Bangladesh, the United Kingdom, Saudi Arabia, Nepal, Kuwait, Singapore, Qatar, Bahrain, the United States and Canada,” he added.

Farmers have no say

When quizzed whether those who cultivate mangoes are given a fair deal when their product reaches the market, Sapre said, “It would be too selfish for us to answer this question in the negative only from the mango farmers' point of view. There is no doubt that they do not get a fair deal, but that is the case with every agricultural commodity. And fruit and vegetables are not sold for a maximum retail price (MRP), but are bought at the roadside only after heavy bargaining. It is sad that agriculture is the only business where the producer does not decide or does not have the power to decide the prices of his/her produce and it is the seller who decides it.”

Marketing

Devgad Taluka Amba Utpadak Sahakari Sanstha Maryadit is involved in the marketing of mangoes, and Sapre stated that for the past two years, the society has been running the pilot of an e-commerce initiative (www.devgadmango.com), where it delivers the fruit from Devgad to the homes of people in cities.

He added that while the initiative was a success in Pune, it hadn't quite taken off along the expected lines in other cities owing to connectivity issues. “This year, we will scale up the initiative in Pune. Meanwhile, we are also working on ironing out the issues in other cities,” he informed.

When asked about the society's marketing strategy, Sapre said, “We are the custodians of the brand we produce. So the strategy, which is also mentioned our website is, 'The world's best Alphonso mango, directly from the farmers'. We ensure nothing less than the best quality – all the customer has to do is choose the size and variant of mango they want. We have established processes to ensure that only the best fruits pass through and reach the customers. We vouch for our quality, stand by it and make all efforts to create a brand along the same lines as any corporate offering.”

Government's role

Sapre said the government could do a lot for mago cultivators to thrive, adding that the society has made its representation, but the need of the hour at this point is to mandate a minimum support price (MSP) along the lines of sugarcane for mangoes bought for processing. This, he stated, would solve a number of problems faced by the mango producers.

“Another problem that needs to be addressed is the octroi. There is no octroi on fruit, but at some check nakas, harassment of mango transporters is not uncommon. They are in fact asked to pay octroi on the pretext of them being processed products (because they are packed in boxes) and not as mere fruits,” he added.

Stand on artificial ripening

Sapre said Devgad Taluka Amba Utpadak Sahakari Sanstha Maryadit was totally against the use of any chemical to ripen the fruit, because there is no need to do so as it diminishes the quality of the fruit. He added, “Instead, we ripen the fruit naturally using hay, and that is why the quality is superior. In fact, it is because of this that we are in a position to command a certain price.”

“The issue of artifical ripening has cropped up because of the weird manner in which the market is structured. Mangoes that come into the market first fetch a higher price. This brings in a tendency among traders to pull in the fruit as soonas possible from the farmers, ripen them artificially and sell them off equally fast. To do so, calcium carbide – a banned product, because it is known to cause cancer and is therefore unfit for human consumption – is used,” he said.

“A point that must be noted is that calcium carbide does not really 'ripen' mangoes. Customers must understand that ripening is a bio-chemical reaction. When the fruit reaches it maturing stage, it starts producing ethylene gas, which slowly breaks down the acids in the fruit, and converts starch into sugar. It is not humanly possible to accelerate this natural biochemical reaction in the fruit,” Sapre explained.
 
“What calcium carbide does to mangoes is that it produces acetylene gas, which creates heat. When generated from calcium carbide, acetylene contains toxic impurities. The main application of acetylene is in welding and as a fuel, and it affects the neurological system. When acetylene fills up the box of mangoes, it heats them from outside and then the mangoes start losing their green colour and turn yellow from outside,” he added.

Sapre said, “The mangoes do turn yellow, but do not ripen. Some starch near the skin of mangoes is broken into sugar and then mangoes take a uniform yellow colour. To the customers, the mangoes look yellow, so they think it is ripe and buy it at whatever cost. However, the taste is not what the customer has paid for. Such mangoes taste pathetic.”
 
“Another problem for us is that almost all mangoes that look like Alphonso are sold in the market as Devgad and Ratnagiri. Now people have heard the names of these two talukas producing mangoes of top quality. When people eat such artificially-ripened mangoes thinking that they must belong to either of these talukas, and more so to Devgad, and the mangoes taste pathetic, our name takes a beating. These people do not want to buy Devgad mangoes later on, based on the fake mangoes they have eaten. So essentially the loss from artificially ripened mangoes is not just financial but all around,” he added.

Processors' viewpoint

Pavankumar Agarwal, director (commercial), Shree Mahalaxmi Agro Farms Pvt Ltd – which deals in Alphonso mangoes and their pulp – said, “We are exporters. While our products are in great demand all over the globe, Canada is a significant importer, and the company is currently in negotiations with the buyers.”

“In fact, we showcased our products at various international trade fairs, including Gulfood in Dubai, Foodex in Japan and IEF (the United Kingdom), and were present at the APEDA show as well. We own a global GAP and ISO 22000:2005-certified Alphonso mango orchard with in-house pulping and canning lines and tube-in-tube technology,” he said.

Agarwal agreed with Sapre that farmers have not got a fair deal and that the government has to look into the same with an eye on the long-term prospects for the sector. He said, “Farmers can get a good price for their product only when marketing committee charges and brokers' commissions at yards are kept in check.”

As far as the problems it faces are concerned, he said, “Improper infrastructure is a key issue. Transportation is inaequate and climate-controlled distribution hubs need to be developed.”

When quizzed about artificial ripening, Agarwal stated, “Artificial ripening as per global GAP practices is acceptable, but using hazardous chemicals to ripen the mangoes is creating a shift to the other varieties available. The Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) and Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Maharashtra have to look into it at the market (point of sales) level.”
 
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