Ban on mangoes

Print edition : May 30, 2014

At Crawford market in Mumbai, on April 11, vendors wait for buyers. Photo: PAUL NORONHA

EVERY summer, the fruit market section of Mumbai’s famous Crawford Market becomes a hub for mangoes. Piles of mangoes are found at every wholesaler’s stall. Alphonso is the clear favourite, and the arrival of this king among mangoes is anticipated with great excitement.

Yet, for many years the escalating price of Alphonso and its cousins made them almost unaffordable. Not so this year. The discovery of fruit flies in 207 consignments of Indian fruits and vegetables exported to the European Union (E.U.) this April led to the E.U. banning mangoes from India from May 1, 2014, to December 2015. This resulted in a glut of Alphonso in the market and a drastic drop in its price. Domestic consumers are delighted but not so mango growers, wholesalers and exporters.

“We are facing massive losses this year,” said Anil Rajaram, a wholesale dealer in Crawford Market. “Exports to the E.U. are only about 8.5 per cent of the total crop, but the media hype and publicity the issue has received has affected us very badly. Exports have dropped by 30 per cent, and the mango we sold at Rs.800 a dozen locally is selling at Rs.400 today and is expected to drop even further.” In areas close to the Agriculture Produce Marketing Committee (APMC) market in Navi Mumbai, high-quality Alphonso is sold for Rs.150-200 a dozen, a price unheard of in recent times.

Rajaram said the mango crop was affected by unseasonable rain. This led to an early harvest and earlier–than-usual ripening, which led to the glut in the market. In spite of the seasonal deviation, the mango crop was good this year, he added and attributed it to the fact that every alternate year yields a good crop.

“A rough estimate of a good season is that for a dozen good quality mangoes that cost approximately Rs.1,000, the farmer gets about Rs.200. So you can calculate that if a dozen costs Rs.200, the farmers gets only Rs.40,” said Kamal Kawad, who owns four hectares of mango orchards in Ratnagiri district. “That will not cover the costs. It’s a big loss this year, and the government is doing nothing to check the prices.”

According to Kawad, mangoes are sold in various ways. Commonly, an agent buys a crop of 100 to 200 trees from a grower. Farmers also go directly to the APMC, which then sells it to wholesalers or retailers. Alternatively, the wholesaler gets it directly from the farmer. The good thing, said Kawad, was that somehow the farmer managed to cover his costs and make a reasonable profit. “This year, however, the agents are squeezing us with excuses such as the E.U. ban.”

According to the agri-exchange data with the Agricultural and Processed Food Products Export Development Authority (APEDA), India is the largest exporter of mangoes in the world. The exports in 2011-12 were 63,440 tonnes, which amounted to approximately Rs.250 crore. Maharashtra, which produces 3,031 tonnes, is not among the largest producers of mangoes in the country, but it does produce the Alphonso, the most-sought-after mango in the export market. Ninety per cent of the exports go from Maharashtra.

In early April, the E.U. said it acted to tackle “significant shortcomings in the phytosanitary certification system of such products exported to the E.U.”. It noted that a high number of consignments arrive with “quarantine pests, mainly insects, like non-European fruit flies…. Introduction of new pests could threaten E.U. agriculture and production.”

Indian exporters, shaken by the strong action, said that at the Indian end of the clearance process they had been given a clean chit. Nonetheless, somewhere something was slack and the consignments did not meet the E.U. standards. In an official statement, Rafiq Ahmed, president of the Federation of Indian Export Organisations, said: “We have taken care of the issues and spoken to the E.U. Now they should lift the ban.”

Union Commerce and Industry Minister Anand Sharma voiced outrage at the ban. “We do hope that the E.U. will see sense, considering the strength of the economic partnership between India and the E.U., and not precipitate the situation any further, which leads us to go to the WTO,” he said. The Minister described the E.U.’s move as “arbitrary action without any consultation”.

Meanwhile, the Union Ministry of Agriculture sent out notices detailing how all fresh produce would be routed through pack-houses certified by the APEDA. Similarly, the State Ministry of Agriculture and Marketing has asked exporters to focus on other countries and ensure that export norms are met.

Anupama Katakam

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