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India seeks to get bigger bite of global mango business

Published by The Straits Times, Singapore on 2004-05-06

WEST BORIVALI (India) -- In the lucrative global fruit market, nations and regions pride themselves on products that they can claim to be uniquely theirs. Thus, New Zealand boasts about the kiwi fruit; Israel its Jaffa oranges; Hawaii, its pineapples; Malaysia, its jackfruit and durian; Indonesia, the rambutan; China, its lychees; the U.S. state of Georgia, its peaches; and Kenya, its passion fruit. India touts the haffus.

Haffus?

Haffus is one of seven names for the Alphonso mango, which appears seasonally each year only in April and May. Indians proudly call it the 'king of fruits.' Its taste is sweet and sour, its skin is delicate to the touch, and its flesh is plump and juicy. Some 1,000 varieties of mangoes are grown in India, the world's largest producer of the fruit. Indian mangoes account for 13 million metric tonnes, or 60 percent of the world output each year from the 87 countries where mangoes are cultivated.

The haffus mango may well be the king of fruits in the Indian view--fetching up to US$25 a dozen domestically--but it's a weakling in the international market. India's export figures are relatively low, contributing less than 15 per cent of the global mango exports, or about 40,000 metric tonnes each year. (Puny as this figure is, mango exports account for 35 percent of India's total fruit exports each year.) The U.S., Mexico, Israel, the Philippines and--especially humiliating for India--neighboring Pakistan all export more mangoes in a global mango market that's worth more than US$5 billion, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization, a Rome-based agency of the United Nations system.

Now, in this peak season as millions of Indians scramble for mangoes before stocks are exhausted nationally by the end of the month, the country's export officials are energetically promoting the mango internationally through festivals, ad campaigns and visits to retail chains, especially in Europe and the U.S. India traditionally sells most of its mangoes in the Gulf, which gets 40 percent of India's exports; Britain, and parts of Southeast Asia, including Singapore. Mango accounts for 42 percent of the land under fruit crop in India with a harvest of 12 million tonnes of mangoes. The haffus accounts for almost 40 per cent of India's mango exports, and Indian officials see that figure rising this year.

As a result of a visit by Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee to Beijing not long ago, China is importing more than 1,000 tonnes of mangoes from India this year; its earlier concerns about the pesticides used on Indian mangoes have apparently been allayed.

India's Agricultural and Processed Foods Exports Development Authority says that the Indian mango is entering international markets with special vigour this year. It credits scientists at the Indian Agricultural Research Institute (IARI) for using cross breeding techniques to give the Indian fruit a 'foreign look.'

Officials told the Press Trust of India (PTI) that 'Pusa Arunima', a hybrid variety derived from the cross between the Indian 'Amrapali' and 'Sensation', the famous cultivar of Florida, is being exported to European countries and the United States.

'The red peel colour of the mango, which primarily is the characteristic of Sensation, could help our mangoes capture the international market--the other Indian varieties failed to do because of their dull look,' Dr. Room Singh, Head of the Department of Horticulture at IARI, told PTI. He said that almost all mango varieties cultivated in the country have a green peel colour which does not attract foreign buyers.

'Acidity level in the fruit has gone up, which in combination with sugar, releases a very sweet smell,' Dr. Singh said, adding that the hybrid's shelf life at room temperature has been extended from four days to 12 days. And finally, he said, the hybrid's yield was three times that of any other mango breed because it could be planted closer.

Pusa Arunima's success in the export market has cheered Indian growers because it isn't often that a new breed makes its appearance in the mango industry. With the exception of Southeast Asia, Australia and some African countries--which have their own varieties--most countries still produce and export cultivars developed in Florida, such as 'Haden', 'Tommy Atkins', 'Kent' and 'Keitt', according to Dr. Singh.

This year, India sees an opportunity to overtake Pakistan's mango exports, Because of special cultivation techniques, Pakistan can export mangoes as late as June. To counter that, India is selling more breeds such as Dussehri and Chausa, which are grown in North India and can be harvested later than the haffus. A recent 'Sea Transportation Protocol for Gulf and West Asia' enables Indian mangoes to be kept for 15 to 18 days after harvesting, thereby facilitating cheaper transport by sea to this region, according to Indian officials.

This makes India's mangoes more price competitive in markets such as the Gulf. Plans are also underway to establish similar sea transportation protocols for Europe and South-East Asia, which are also tipped to become big markets in a couple of years, according to Mr A. S. Rawat of the Agricultural and Processed Food Products Export Development.

Boosting Indian mango exports is the fact that the government is encouraging growers to better control the traditional wastage during post-harvesting, and to build better cold storage facilities. The recent creation of eight agro-export zones in seven mango-growing states--such as Maharashtra--has given a fillip to foreign sales because these zones helped streamline the chaotic distribution system.

And how are India's rivals reacting to its renewed marketing of mangoes? Pakistan, the third largest producer of mangoes in the world, has developed a hybrid called Sundari. The name translates as 'the beautiful one'; the breed is being billed as better than anything that India sells in the global bazaar.

Pranay Gupte,
Senior Writer and Global-Affairs Columnist


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