India, the world’s largest producer of mangoes, is turning to East Asia and the Middle East to boost its flagging exports of the national fruit. More than 1,500 regional varieties of mango are grown across India, with some cultivars such as the Alphonso attracting mango lovers. With about 21 million tonnes harvested in the year to June, mangoes account for about 40% of India’s total fruit exports.
But exports have been dealt with a heavy blow by the COVID-19 pandemic disruptions such as lockdowns, restrictions/curfews and higher freight costs. Official figures show that about USD 28 million worth of fresh mangoes were exported from India between April 2020 and February 2021, against a high of around USD 195 million worth of the fruits and their associated products in 2016.
In a bid to attract customers and boost exports, the agricultural export arm of the commerce ministry organized virtual buyer-seller meet ups and held mango festivals in Bahrain, Kuwait and Qatar. The Indian embassies in South Korea, Japan and Dubai have been roped in to host mango-tasting events and sending out promotional consignments of the fruit to local Indian restaurants.
UK Vats, general manager, India’s Agriculture and Processed Food Products Export Development Authority, told This Week in Asia that such initiatives aimed at boosting mango exports were being organized by the government body every week. “There is now an increased interest in traditional markets like the Middle East.” Vats said mango exports to Japan and South Korea, previously limited to between 20-25 tonnes and 30-40 tonnes respectively, had also shot up. “Now we are exploring about 100 metric tonnes each to Japan and South Korea.” The authority, in June, organized a week-long promotional campaign in Bahrain with 16 varieties of mango on show at supermarkets across the Gulf island nation, sourced from farmers in the eastern Indian states of West Bengal and Bihar.
However, it’s to be noted that many mango-producing states – Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Gujarat, Karnataka, Uttar Pradesh and Bihar have been impacted by drought, erratic rainfall and other climate-related challenges in recent years. Since 2015, Indian authorities have required all mangoes bound for the European Union and Britain to be hot water treated before exports to remove any fruit flies or other containments.
Ankush Saha, secretary of West Bengal Fresh Fruits and Vegetables Exporters Association, told This Week in Asia that this step was still being insisted upon by the Indian authorities even after the UK and EU relaxed the mandatory step of hot water immersion treatment this year to export mangoes. Saha said this was detrimental and urged the government to do more to help India’s struggling mango exporters by focusing on fixing issues that already existed, and not just hunt for new markets.