The prediction that there would be a Mango famine this year in India is really sad because this is not the first time the country is facing such a situation. Simplistic explanation that Mango production is "cyclic", is routinely offered by the establishment without ever bothering to look into the scientific basis for such a phenomenon if it really exists. Indian horticulture scientists have creditable records in developing newer varieties of fruits during the last 3 decades but their inability to ensure uniform production is a bitter reality. What it takes to prevent wide fluctuations in production of a fruit like Mango should have been found out long ago. True, organized cultivation of Mango is far and few and a major portion of the annual production comes from thousands of scattered gardens owned by individual families. The trees are neither irrigated adequately nor fertilized regularly, most growers considering what ever crop is harvested as a bonanza with practically no inputs. There are no systematic efforts to replace old trees which start yielding less and less after 40 years. The pre-harvest contracting system puts the responsibility of maintaining the trees on the contractor who takes great care but only to prevent people "pilfering" from his captive tress.
In sharp contrast Apple orchards in Kashmir and Himachal Pradesh are better organized and have collective bargaining strength in fetching attractive price for their "fruits of labor". Added to this the governments there pitch in with economic support to boost the income of Apple growers. Considerable scientific research world over has enabled the growers as well as the whole sale buyers to harvest, pre-treat, pack, store, distribute and retail the fruit with minimum losses and earn substantial income from Apple growing. No wonder that Apple is available any where in the country 365 days an year and the retail price never comes down to a level less than Rs 80 per kg. With easing of import regulations, Apple varieties from China, Australia, the US and other countries are flooding the market, their retail price hitting the roof at about Rs 150-200 per kg.
Mango season is generally spread between April and August and it is normal for early and late arrivals to command high price. A price around Rs 20 to 40 per kg is considered affordable though fancy varieties like Alphonso may fetch even Rs 80-100 per kg. Mango business is not as transparent as it should be, because it is often difficult for the consumer to identify the variety offered. There are more than 1000 varieties of Mango grown in 85 countries all over the World though commercially hardly two dozen cultivars are important. About 50% of tropical fruits produced globally,is accounted for by Mango, grown in an area of 3.7 million hectare with an annual production estimated at 27 million tons. India is reported to have about 1.5 million hectares under mango cultivation producing 13 million tons annually, the nearest competitor being China accounting for just 3.8 million tons.
Though Uttar Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh and Bihar account for bulk of the production, the variety wise statistics are not reliable. Indian varieties like Alphonso, Badami, Chausa, Dusehri, Langhda, Totapuri, Banganapalli, Kesar, Mallika, Mulgoa, Neelum, Pairi, Raspuri etc are well known and well established with unequaled taste, texture and aroma characteristics. But paradoxically the Florida originating Mango cultivar Tommy Atkins predominates the global market because of its positive traits like high productivity, firmer fruit texture, low spoilage and longer shelf life, though it is fibrous and less aromatic. In India fruit losses are heavy on the trees before harvest and post harvest perishability can be as high as 50%! It is a shame that the specialized National Horticultural Board of GOI has not been able to do much in putting the Mango growing and retailing business on a sound economic footing so far, in spite of tons of literature generated by Indian scientists available on every aspect of growing and preservation of Mango.
What is urgently needed is to develop varieties that can grow all year round with fruits that can keep well under low temperature and modified atmosphere storage conditions, amenable to country-wide marketing with minimum losses. Considering that almost all Indian varieties score well over those originating from other countries in terms of eating quality, the export market may be unlimited. GOI must come out with a policy to encourage organized massive cultivation of Mango dedicated for export by credible industry players. APEDA, the export promoting arm of GOI is doing a wonderful job in positioning Mango as an exotic fruit in the international market but the impact has not been dramatic as the traders are not able to sustain the quality and quantity. The present pre-harvest contracting system must be abolished and adequate organizational net work should be created to market Mango produce from small growers scientifically to benefit the consumer by preventing the middle man gulping a major part of the consumer price.