The start of April, notwithstanding the soaring day temperatures, is something everyone in Hyderabad looks forward to, for this marks the arrival of the king of fruits. Truckloads of mangoes, of various kinds, that arrive in the city from different parts of Telangana and Andhra Pradesh, are segregated for export and local consumption at the Gaddiannaram fruit market, the biggest in the state. Soon, the city streets are dotted with pushcarts selling mangoes. However, the summer of 2020 is different.
The unprecedented nation-wide lockdown has left traders at the market worried. For a farmer faced with a decline in yield owing to unseasonal rains in December last, the ongoing lockdown means a double setback in the form of lower prices for his produce. However, on the streets, the prices of mangoes are skyrocketing.
“There are hardly any mangoes available this year. So prices, naturally, will be high. Also, I have the best quality here for sale,” says Shiva, a pushcart vendor near Secunderabad clock-tower. He was selling a kilogram of Banganapalli Mangoes or Benishan mango for Rs 200. Ponting towards the empty streets, he quickly adds, “What’s the point? There is hardly anyone on the streets. I have to push this cart for kilometres to find some customers.”
The season of mangoes in Hyderabad starts in April and extends till June. The four popular varieties of mangoes traded at the Gaddiannaram fruit market are Benishaan, Himayat, Pedda Rasalu and Kesar. The Agriculture Marketing Department’s website suggests that in the first week of April, the market has recorded the arrival of 22,564 quintals of mangoes. These have been mostly from Kollapur, Kalluru, Kalwakurthy, Ananthapur, Agiripalle, Khammam, Jadcherla, Vijayawada, Mylavaram, Puttaparthi, etc.
On April 6 Chief Minister K Chandrasekhar Rao appealed to Prime Minister Narendra Modi to extend the nation-wide lockdown for a couple of weeks and quoted an international study to suggest that the disease may peak in India by June. He called the lockdown as the only ‘weapon’ against the virus for a country like India with its poor medical and health infrastructure.
To discourage crowding of people at vegetable markets across the state, the Telangana government recently started Mobile Rythu Bazars — vegetable markets on wheels. According to a government press release, Shomita Biswas, the union joint secretary of the Department of Agriculture, lauded the initiative to ensure people stay at their homes while they receive the essentials and said it could be replicated across the country.
“Do you think the market will be shut down? What do people like us do in such a case? Will the shutdown be extended till June?” asks Suhail, a worker at the market. Suhail hails from the Old city of Hyderabad and the daily wage he earns helps sustain his family of six members.
Stating that the ongoing lockdown-induced lack of labourers and transportation has burnt a hole in their pockets, Sayeed Bin Abdullah, a commission agent for over three decades at the fruit market, says available stocks are being sold at half the prices. “My mangoes have come from Kollapur in Nagarkurnool district. I am forced to sell these at half the usual rate as there are no buyers,” he added.
Of the total mangoes available at the market, 80 per cent is exported to different parts of the country including Delhi, Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, and Maharashtra, etc. This year, amid the lockdown, very few trucks are available. The labourers from north Indian states who do the packing job are also unavailable. “This year, not only is the produce disappointing, the export to other states is barely 10 per cent of usual,” points out Mohammed Ibrahim, the director of the fruit market committee.
“People do not have money for rotation. We are forced to sell as we cannot store them for long. We are selling mangoes at half the actual rates,” Ibrahim, a commission agent himself, rues. According to him, it is the same reason why retailers and vendors, too, refuse to purchase in large quantities. For people who are devoid of their regular incomes, mangoes are not essential. Ibrahim says retailers are aware of the public mood amid a possible virus breakout and ongoing lockdown.
Agriculture Market Committee secretary E Venkatesham is optimistic that Hyderabad streets will soon witness plenty of mangoes for local consumption. The fruit has just started arriving in the market and it will take a few days for mangoes to ripe and hit the streets, he says.
Overcoming the initial hiccups from a COVID-19-triggered lockdown and resuming export to other states in itself was a positive sign. Instead of 10-15 truckloads of mangoes that are exported to other states, the traders have started with 4-5 trucks from Tuesday.
Though the arrival of fruit to the market is expected to be less, the price is decided by the demand. “The mangoes are being sold for anywhere between Rs 20,000 to Rs 50,000 per ton. There is a decline in arrivals but sales are likely to pick up in the coming days” he adds.
Meanwhile, Ibrahim denies any possibility of the market shutting down to avoid the congregation of people. According to him, the committee has decided against it and taken steps to ensure social distancing. Not all trucks will be allowed inside the market now on, he adds.
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