Mango growers in the country are planning to increase the volume of export of their produce to the United States this year. Last year, India exported 271 metric tonnes of mangoes to the US. Officials hope the figure will go up to 400 tonnes this year.
Succulent Indian mangoes take a circuitous route through the country’s onion belt to head for the US. A sprawling irradiation facility set up in Lasalgaon, located 240 km north of Mumbai and approved by the United States agriculture department, treats these mangoes before they are exported.
Till a decade ago, Indian mangoes had been banned from the US market for a period of 17 years over fears that pests would be imported through these mangoes.
It was only in March 2006 that the then US President George W Bush during his India visit signed an agreement allowing the import of Indian mangoes to that country.
India cultivates mangoes on nearly 2.2 lakh hectares and has production in the range of 19.51 million tonnes. It accounts for nearly 40 per cent of the total mango production in the world. Nearly 30 varieties of mangoes are grown in India, with Uttar Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka having the highest production.
Despite this, India exports only 43,000 MT mangoes, which accounts for 0.2 per cent of the total production.
The major five importing countries of Indian mangoes are UAE, Bangladesh, UK, Saudi Arabia, and Nepal.
Interestingly, in spite of the high returns that the US market gives, exports to that country did not look up once the ban on Indian markets was lifted.
Officials at Krushi Utpadan Sanrakshan Kendra (KRUSHAK), the irradiation centre, however, said they hoped to export 400 tonnes to the US this year.
“The US market would fetch an exporter four times the price than to any other country. Last year, the price fetched per tonne of exports was Rs 70,360. In the US, it was Rs 2.55 lakh. It is the fear of maintaining standards that is keeping Indians away from this market. This year, we hope we will reach the 400-tonne mark to the US,” said a Maharashtra State Agriculture Management Board official.
The irradiation plant set up at a cost of Rs 8 crore in 2002 was initially meant to treat onions. The members of the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service of the United States agriculture department had subsequently visited the plant and have a go-ahead for the facility’s compliance for mangoes too.
Before 2007, Indian mangoes had for 17 years faced non-trade barriers, such as sanitary and phyto-sanitary (plant health) measures, from the US, which feared pests like fruit flies and weevils could be imported through mangoes.
However, this mango quarantine through irradiation has allayed the fears. During irradiation, foods are exposed briefly to a radiant energy source such as gamma rays or electron beams. This not only helps in killing harmful bacteria but also increases the shelf life of the fruit.
The facility built by the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre has a processing capacity of 1 tonne every hour and BARC charges Rs 500 to irradiate every tonne of mango.
“Varieties like Alphonso are too sweet for the palate of Americans. It is Kesar that sells in those markets. A single Kesar fetches close to a dollar. However the packing, quality maintenance and paper work involved puts off most traders from approaching the US market,” said Shirish Jain, a Gujarat-based exporter of Indian mangoes.