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Sunday, December 16, 2007

King of Fruits may sport a royal price tag this year

PUNE: Those who savoured juicy Alphonso mangoes this season at cheaper rates will have to shell out more in the next season as the King of Fruits is likely to make a delayed entry. Mango trees in the Konkan belt have just started to blossom, signalling a delayed crop. The first batch of mangoes is expected to arrive in April as against the February-March period, every year. This is likely to also hurt mango growers as exports to large markets such as Japan and the US, which opened last year, may not serve fully, said farmers.

American and Japanese governments had banned the import of Indian mangoes on concerns that diseases through fruit flies, that typically infest the fruit, may spread to those countries. Last year, Japan lifted the ban on mango imports on condition that the fruits will be subject to a vapour heat treatment (VHT).

The US also opened its markets to Indian mangoes with a mandatory irradiation treatment, after special teams from both countries inspected the treatment facilities in Maharashtra. India exports only the Alphonso and Kesar varieties of mangoes. Alphonso mangoes are mainly grown in the Konkan region, especially in Ratnagiri and Sindhudurga districts. According to the Maharashtra State Agricultural Marketing Board (MSAMB), which is also involved in the export of mangoes, around 2.93 lakh tonnes are grown over 346,538 acres of land.

Both districts have been declared as agri-export zones. Devgad village in Sindhudurga district produces one of the world’s biggest alphonso mangoes, about 50,000 tonnes every year. But ironically, the region does not have treatment plants necessary to export to the US and Japan.

The VHT facility is located at Vashi in Navi Mumbai, while the irradiation treatment plant is based at Lasalgaon in Nasik, both of them about 400 to 700 km far from the Alphonso-producing areas. Marathwada leads the production of the Kesar variety, with around 133,635 tonnes of mangoes grown on 85,323 acres of land . Though this region is closer to the irradiation facility, the VHT plant is almost 350 km away.

Despite the lifting of export bans, mango farmers from Konkan are grappling with political and bureaucratic problems which have been slowing their efforts. Their demands for a minimum support price for mangoes used in the processing sector, on the lines of sugarcane, have not been met. “Though exports to Japan and the US were allowed last year, farmers weren’t able to export their produce and we have dim hopes that we will be able to export this year either,” said Sudhir Joshi, president of the Devgad Mango Growers’ Association. “Inspite of the fact that our region is an agri-export zone, we do not have VHT and irradiation facilities in our region.

We have been demanding these facilities for a long time. The agriculture marketing board has provided us with cold storage and other packing facilities, but they are not sufficient for exports. We also need a laboratory for testing the quality of soil, fertilisers, pesticides, etc, which is a mandatory requirement for exports”.

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