Why isn’t our mango going places

Hindustan Times, June 6, 2008

WEST BENGAL may rank seventh among India’s mango-producing states, but little of its produce reaches a thriving international fruit market simply because there is no proper export infrastructure.

So, while western India leads the export bandwagon with Alphonso as the brand ambassador of the country, Bengal’s luscious Himsagar, Langra and Malika remains mere curious in the discerning markets of Europe and the US.

Lack of exports infrastructure and grower’s isolation from the fruit export market is one reason why Bengal’s mangoes have failed to reach the shelves of European, West Asian and North American departmental stores.

A study by CUTS, a Kolkata NGO striving to intervene in national policy matters, has revealed a set of shortcomings that keep Bengal’s mangoes, once patronised and cultured by the Nawabs, from going places.

The study has noted that almost 30 per cent of the state’s mango production rots because of cyclical overproduction and inadequate storage facilities. Also, there are few fruit-processing units in the state to lift the excess produce for use in value-added products. The growers, in general, also don’t have access to security shields such as institutional finance and insurance cover to export a product lacing in long shelf life.

“There is a general lack of information on the specific requirements of particular export market among both growers and processors. The problem of overproduction is compounded by inadequate cold storage and packing facilities,” the study says.

Although Malda, Murshidabad, Nadia, North 24-Parganas and South 24-Parganas have been growing high quality mangoes for ages, the government has been indifferent to the potential of the fruits. Almost 60 per cent of the state’s produce is consumed in the domestic market and little, if ever, goes beyond its borders.

Though mango is one of the state’s major horticulture products, there is no monitoring unit to help growers attain global standards. Anup Datta, CEO, West Bengal Agri-Horticulture Exporters’ Association, had cited this as a stumbling block to mango exports from Bengal in an interview to a news agency last year.

The CUTS report shows the situation hasn’t changed, with the growers remaining cut off from export market operations and losing out in the process. This isolation has also been compounded by the grower lack of awareness of the features of the country’s foreign trade policy and programmes, and an absence of knowledge among policy-makers about grassroots reality, the report has observed.

It has also noted that the panchayats have failed to serve as information hubs. They have failed to tell growers about available schemes that can help their business grow. They have also not liaised with the government, the study feels, to communicate local needs and help tailor policies to let this business flourish.