- Unseasonal rains, fewer cold days, low temperatures over prolonged periods and sudden rise in maximum temperature are affecting the mango crop in the coastal Konkan region in Maharashtra.
- This year, Konkan’s speciality, the Alphonso mangoes, were sold for Rs. 700 to Rs. 1,000 per dozen in one of their main markets, Pune city, as compared to Rs. 500 to Rs 700 in 2022.
- Experts say that the climatic aberrations can be countered by following practices for mango-growers issued by experts and being updated with the weather advisory.
Unseasonal rains and sudden rise in temperatures have affected the yield of the Alphonso mangoes in the state of Maharashtra, leading to an increase in its price compared to last year.
This year, in April, the fruit was sold at a rate of Rs. 700 to Rs. 1,000 per dozen, as compared to Rs. 500 to Rs. 700 in 2022, at the Agricultural Produce & Livestock Market Committee (APMC) market in Pune city.
The Alphonso mango, a mango (Mangifera indica) cultivar, has gained worldwide fame for its taste, aroma and quality. A dominant and major fruit crop with importance in the economy of coastal Maharashtra, Alphonso is the ruling cultivar, covering around 1,64,000 hectares of area in the Konkan region which consists of the districts Thane, Palghar, Raigad, Ratnagiri and Sindhudurg.
However, changing weather patterns have been affecting the Alphonso’s productivity in the region over the past few years. This year too, unseasonal rainfall and variations in temperature have had an impact on production, and thus, price.
Arrival of fewer mangoes in market increases price
The Alphonso mango usually arrives in late March, on Gudi Padwa, a Hindu festival that marks the beginning of the traditional new year. On Akshaya Tritiya, an annual Jain and Hindu spring festival at the end of April, the communities feast on the fruit that heralds the beginning of the mango season. This year, during the festival that started on April 22, the APMC market in Pune opened with only 2,000 boxes of Alphonso mangoes, which had arrived from the orchards spread in the coastal villages of Maharashtra’s Konkan region. “Generally, the Pune APMC receives between eight to 10,000 boxes [of Alphonso mangoes] on Akshay Tritiya,” says Rohan Ursal of DB Ursal and Grandsons, a leading fruit seller and fruit trader. “However, this year, there were a paltry 1,000 boxes of the Konkan Alphonso mangoes (locally known as hapus), competing with its namesake grown in the Gulbarga and Bidar orchards of Karnataka.”
He adds that as the daily arrival of boxes hovered between 1,000 to 2,000, it resulted in prices of a dozen mangoes remaining very high, at Rs. 700 to Rs. 1,000 per dozen against last year’s Rs. 500 to 700. “This is when the Karnataka hapus sold very well at Rs. 300 a dozen,” Ursal says.
Unseasonal rains, fewer cold days affect produce
Unseasonal rains especially during the flowering and fruit development, fewer cold days, prevalence of low temperature for prolonged periods, and sudden rise in maximum temperature during February to March are affecting the Konkan districts of Thane, Palghar, Raigad, Ratnagiri and Sindhudurg. This has led to lesser harvest of the crop in the last few years.
“The variation in weather sweeping the Konkan region has disturbed the crop phenology, especially the vegetative growth dynamics eventually affecting the reproductive life-cycle of the plant,” says Yogesh Parulekar, assistant professor, Department of Horticulture, Dr. Balasaheb Sawant Konkan Krishi Vidyapeeth. “It is affecting the production cycle, delaying harvesting season, quality of the produce and farmers’ economy.”
According to Sandesh Patil, the climate aberrations and the problems it brings has pushed up production cost because of extensive crop management and led to fall in yield by 75 percent. Patil, who owns an orchard spread over 24 acres on the foothills of Kankeshwar in Alibaug, and is meticulous in keeping records, says that the rain pattern in Konkan has changed, which means that the monsoon return has extended. “Usually, it (monsoon return) would happen around September 20, but now, it occurs in October-end.” He also adds that the onset of winter being delayed affects the crops. “For instance, last year, the cold days began in December rather than November. We have had unseasonal showers every day of the month, which led to crop infestation and no amount of pesticides could control them leading to increased cost of production. The heat which we generally experience in April began in February this year, which led to the scorching of the fruit.”
Vidyadhar Joshi of Devgadh in Sindhudurg, one of the most popular regions for Alphonso mangos, is a third-generation Alphonso grower and among the first to rejuvenate his senile trees (old trees that are unable to produce substantial fruit). He has witnessed a drastic reduction of production from 6,000 petis (boxes containing 17 to 18 kilograms of mangoes) in 2021 and 2022 to 3,000 petis this year. The 50-year-old, third-generation orchard owner sells his entire produce online to customers based in cities such as Mumbai, Pune, Kolhapur, Satara, Sangli, Nagpur in Maharashtra and even Hyderabad in Andhra Pradesh.
“The appearance of new leaves in November, leading to delayed flowering and incidences of fruit dropping has increased, which has led to the loss in production,” Joshi says. “Foggy weather conditions at the time of flowering in December ushered in improper pollination and increased manifestation of new pests such as thrips, fruit borer, midge fly, and mealy bug.”
What can farmers do?
Alphonso-growers have realised that the Alphonso fruit is a fastidious variety, as it happens to be an alternate-year bearing, dislikes trimming and pruning and is unsuitable for high-density plantation bedevilled with spongy tissue syndrome. And now, it is grimly affected by changes in weather conditions.
Mahesh Kulkarni, Project Officer, Centre of Excellence Mango and assistant professor at the Dapoli-based College of Horticulture, says that the climatic aberrations can be countered, provided the farmers follow the package of practices for mango-growers and remained updated with the weather advisory issued by the University. “For instance, if temperatures are high, the farmer should initiate irrigation which they traditionally don’t, as it is not advisable during fruit-setting. In order to avoid scorching, the fruits need to be bagged, which in most orchards is not feasible as the trees have grown too high to provide easy access,” he adds.
Chandrashekhar Bhadsavle is a recipient of Maharashtra’s Krishi Bhushan Award for excellence in agriculture and the innovator of the Saguna Regenerative Technique used in the cultivation of cereals, pulses and vegetables. He has 70 Alphonso trees that were planted in the early 1980s at Neral’s Saguna Baugh. “We too experienced unseasonal showers every month resulting in vegetative growth, which was followed by hot and dry spells,” he says. “Incidentally, our harvest was not affected. The reason, I believe, could be due to the increased carbon content of the soil. We practice absolutely no-tilling in our orchard, constrain the grass and weeds using weedicide sprays which have resulted in the ushering of earthworms and we follow it up with mulching using Gliricidia leaves which are rich in nitrogen.”
According to Chandrakant Mokal, President, Maharashtra State Mango Growers Association, the irregularity of winter, frequent cloudy weather and occasional showers have played havoc leading to the growth of pests, and the farmers, in order to save their harvest, have used between 10 to 12 sprays of pesticide effect, while the university and the Department of Agriculture insist on six sprays.
In an effort to encourage the use of organic fertiliser and pesticides, the Association has held several horticulture conferences and gatherings and distributed samples of organic fertiliser, such as vermicompost etc. among orchard owners. “We have made representations to the state government to provide substantial financial support to the mango producers, as it was done in 2014-2015, when the state gave an assistance of Rs. 50,000 per hectare,” informs Mokal.
Banner image: A busy day in Pune’s APMC with boxes of mangoes arriving from Konkan region in Maharashtra and Karnataka. Photo by Hiren Kumar Bose.