Mango production in India to be hit due to early arrival of heatwaves
Prolonged winter till February followed by a sudden rise in temperature in March bring bad tidings to mango cultivators, who have reported low yields this year. The drastic jump in mercury affected fertilisation and the mango flowers withered and dropped off the trees.
Sumit Yadav 5 May 2022 3:57 PM GMT
Just over two months ago, 65-year-old Jagdev Prasad couldn't contain his happiness at the sight of the dense white bunches of flowers on the mango trees in his orchard. They augered well for a voluminous harvest this year.
But as the flowery spring yielded to an unexpectedly early advent of severe heatwaves in March, the hopes of a bountiful harvest withered along with the flowers, unable to withstand the sudden rise in temperature.
"The flowers were abundant in February and March. I thought that I would be collecting a handsome yield this year when these flowers turned to fruit," Prasad who owns a bigha (quarter of an hectare) of mango orchard in Pilakhna Rasidpur village, Unnao district, about 45 kilometres from Uttar Pradesh's capital Lucknow, told Gaon Connection.
"The flowers dried on the branches and fell off in the loo (heatwave) before they could bear any fruits. The bad timing of the garam hawa (heatwave) ruined it all," said a dispirited Prasad. If the heat wave had happened a little later in May-June, the mangoes would have ripened perfectly, the farmer said.
An unprecedented heatwave has gripped vast swathes of land across India. March 2022 was recorded as the hottest ever March month in India in the past 122 years. Both farmers and agricultural experts are warning of a reduced mango production this year, which is expected to lead to a rise in mango prices.
The ripple effects of this may be felt internationally as India is the world's largest producer of mango. Data shows that India produces almost half of the world's mangoes with annual output touching 20.26 million tonnes during the 2019-20 crop year (July-June). Almost 1,000 varieties of the fruit are grown here, but only 30 are used commercially.
According to the Ministry of External Affairs, exports of fresh mangoes from India increased from 20,302 tonnes in 1987-88 to 46,789.60 tonnes in 2019-20.
But this year seems to be a bad year for the mango farmers.
"I am 82-years-old and have dedicated my life to studying and growing mangoes in my orchards. I have never been witness to such damage to mango flowers due to the oppressive heat," Kaleem Ullah Khan , the renowned horticulturist based in Malihabad, told Gaon Connection. "The yield this year could be the worst so far," the Padma Shri award recipient who is fondly known as the 'mango man' across the world, added.
Predictably, Prasad is worried. "While there were about hundred cartons of mangoes in my orchard last year, the yield is likely to remain about fifty to sixty cartons this year," the farmer said. According to him, a single carton holds 20-22 kgs of mangoes.
India, the world's largest producer of mango
According to the external affairs ministry, almost half of the world's mangoes are produced in India. Agricultural & Processed Food Products Export Development Authority (APEDA), an autonomous organisation under the administrative control of the Department of Commerce, has been mandated with the export promotion of mangoes. Maharashtra's Alphonso forms the bulk of exports from the country; other popular varieties include Kesar, Langra and Chausa.
As per the Indian Horticulture Database, which is maintained by the Indian Agricultural Research Institute (ICAR), Uttar Pradesh is the top producer of mango in the country followed by Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Karnataka and Bihar.
Prolonged winter and early arrival of heatwaves
Apart from the early arrival of heatwaves in March this year, horticultural experts also blame prolonged winter in the country for low mango production.
"This year we had prolonged winter. The cold winter we used to experience in December-January, was felt till February" Dhiraj Tiwari, agricultural scientist, Krishi Vigyan Kendra, Unnao, explained to Gaon Connection. "Suddenly in March, the temperature rose by several degrees, which was way higher than previous years," he added.
The agricultural scientist went on to explain that this year mango flowering was very good. "But because of the sudden rise in the temperature, fertilisation could not take place and mango flowers died and fruits were not formed," said Tiwari.
Farmers are perplexed. The heat has been so bad and so unexpected that even the amiya (unripe mango) are falling off the trees.
"It is very rare that the heat causes amiya to dry up and fall. The way things are, I wonder if the future generations will even get to know the taste of this delicious fruit," 52-year-old Brindaprasad Rawat, a mango cultivator from Unnao's Achalganj village rued.
"It's strange, when the yield is bad, it is either because of the heat or the cold but this year it's both. Prolonged winters and early summers. This is unprecedented," Padma Shri Khan reiterated.
Pesticides spraying worsened the losses
According to agricultural scientist Tiwari, cultivators who used insecticides recklessly have recorded a further drop in yield. "This year we have noticed that farmers who used less pesticides still got some mango fruits on the trees, but those who used multiple chemicals and pesticides, their crop losses have been much higher."
Explaining the reason behind it, he went on to add: "Whatever chemicals and insecticides we use, they cause extra heat to the flowers, which destroys the flowers. Similarly, when heat is high, sulphur should not be used on crops which some farmers did."
"It is important that the cultivators use insecticides cautiously on the advice of farm experts rather than believing what the insecticide-sellers tell them," Tiwari cautioned.
Meanwhile, farmers complained about the need for more insecticides that had increased his expenses.
"For the last seven to eight years, there's been an increase in the quantity of insecticides needed to protect the mango flowers and fruits from insects. I spent almost Rs 4,000 last year on insecticides," Prasad from Pilakhna Rasidpur village said.
Aam not for aam people this year
Low production means high mango prices. "Every year I used to sell forty to fifty kilos of mango a day but this year I barely sell ten to twenty kilos," Vimal, a roadside fruit seller from Unnao, told Gaon Connection. He also pointed towards the high price of mango. "Last year during this time I was selling mango for Rs 60-70 a kilo but this year I am selling for Rs 100-120 a kilo," the mango seller said.
"The yield is set to be lower this year but the silver lining is that hardly anybody will record lower profits as the prices will naturally rise," Ram Prasad Yadav, Unnao's district's horticulture officer, told Gaon Connection. It would just mean that the fruit will become dearer for the consumer and not everybody will be able to afford it, Yadav said.
In Unnao, mango cultivation is spread across 35,000 hectares.
Mango traders, however, do not seem too worried. About seven kilometres away from Jagdev Prasad's orchard, Sumer Singh, a trader from the wholesale mango market in Unnao's Farhadpur said that the lower yields won't make much of a difference to the traders as the wholesale price is likely to be higher in the light of low yield.
"For the last two years, we have been suffering the economic consequences of Corona. The COVID restrictions didn't allow the mandis (wholesale markets) to function normally and we couldn't transport it to offshore markets in other states. As a result, we were forced to sell mangoes at far lower rates than usual," Sumer Singh told Gaon Connection.
"But this year, it is almost certain that the yields will touch a record low. I am hoping for good profits this year," he stated.
Dheeraj Tiwari, the scientist at the district's krishi vigyan kendra (farm science centre) advised the farmers that the cultivators should ensure that their orchards are well hydrated so as to lessen the impact of the oppressive heat.