Think mango and the names that immediately spring to mind are Dussehri, Langra and Chausa, the sweet varieties native to Uttar Pradesh (UP), which accounts for over a fifth of India’s production of this ‘king of fruits’. But when it comes to exports, the Indian mango is synonymous with Alphonso, Kesar and Banganapalli mainly grown in Maharashtra, Gujarat, Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka.
Making UP mangoes count in the international market is what some progressive growers, traders and breeders are now attempting. India produces around 21 million tonnes (mt) of the fruit – 40% of the world’s total – and 4.5 mt comes from UP.
“The government should do more to push UP mangoes. Today, Pakistan’s exports – not only of their own Sindhri mangoes, but even Chausa and Rataul – are higher than ours. Why can’t APEDA (Agricultural & Processed Food Products Export Development Authority) promote our varieties like it has done for Alphonso or Banganapalli?,” asks Nadeem Siddiqui, an Amroha-based exporter.
UP’s indigenous mangoes include Dussehri (identified with Lucknow district’s Malihabad tehsil), Lucknow Safeda, Rataul (named after a village in Khekra tehsil of Baghpat), Langra (first found in the backyard of a lame fakir from Varanasi) and Chausa (after a village in Hardoi’s Sandila tehsil). The total soluble solids or ‘degrees Brix’, a measure of sweetness, ranges from 22 to 24 for their ripe fruits, while hardly 20 in Alphonso and 18-19 in Kesar and Banganapalli.
Siddiqui exported about 100 tonnes of UP mangoes this May-June, more than three-fourths by sea, a first for the state.
“Last year, I did 55 tonnes entirely by air. This time, I shipped out three reefer containers (27 tonnes each) to Oman and Dubai on a trial basis, which was successful. The sea route takes 8-9 days, as against 2 days by air. The harvested fruits have to go to the UP Mandi Parishad’s facility near Lucknow for hot water treatment, air-drying, grading and packing, before the loaded container is sent to Nhava Sheva or Kandla port for final voyage. But the cost (from packhouse to destination port) is only Rs 27/kg, compared to Rs 120/kg by air freight,” says Siddiqui, who claims that his firm Shahnaz Exports has a 90% share of UP’s mango shipments.
Those quantities are, however, miniscule in relation to India’s total fresh mango exports of 49,659 tonnes valued at Rs 400.21 crore, plus 85,726 tonnes of pulp worth Rs 584.32 crore, in 2019-20. “There is a huge untapped market, particularly in the Middle East, for Dussehri, Langra and even less-known varieties like Makhsoos. I myself got orders for 700 tonnes, which couldn’t be executed due to Covid-19. But the air services disruptions from Covid is what also made me explore the sea route” adds Siddiqui.
But despite their sweetness and distinct taste attributes, UP mangoes have issues. To start with, they aren’t regular bearers: Their trees typically yield fruit every alternate year. In Chausa, the gap can be two years. While Alphonso and Kesar – native to Maharashtra’s coastal Konkan belt and Gujarat’s Saurashtra region, respectively – are also alternate-bearers, most south Indian varieties such as Banganapalli, Totapuri, Neelum and Suvarnarekha are regular-bearing.
A second drawback is shelf-life. “Alphonso can be stored for 8-12 days at room temperature after ripening, whereas 3-4 days is the maximum in Dussehri, Langra and Chausa. These mangoes can only be exported to the Middle East or Southeast Asia by air. They can also be sent by sea in refrigerated containers, but the harvested mature green fruits that would ripen during transit have to be marketed immediately on reaching the destination,” points out S.K. Singh, head of the Division of Fruits & Horticultural Technology at the Indian Agricultural Research Institute (IARI) here.
That’s where breeding comes in.
In the 1970s, IARI came out with two mango hybrids, Mallika and Amrapali. These were obtained by crossing Dussehri with Neelum, to combine the sweetness of the former’s fruits with the latter’s regular-bearing habit. The hybrids scored well on both counts – the fruits had 22-22.8 degree Brix, close to Dussehri – but had limited impact in UP. Out of Amrapali’s total 2 lakh hectares cultivated area, the highest is in Odisha (50,000 hectares), Madhya Pradesh (25,000) and West Bengal (21,000). The 31,000 hectares under Mallika is largely in Karnataka (14,000) and West Bengal (5,000).
In 2002, IARI released Pusa Arunima, a hybrid of Amrapali and a US (Florida) variety called Sensation. Its mangoes had moderate sugar (19.5 degree Brix), but 10-12 days of shelf-life and red peel colour making them suitable for exports. Subsequently, seven more Pusa hybrids that were crosses of Amrapali and Sensation (Surya in 2002; Pratibha and Shreshth in 2011; and Deepshikha in 2020), Amrapali and Suvarnarekha (Peetamber in 2011 and Manohari in 2020), and Dussehri and Sensation (Lalima in 2011), got released. Their mangoes, too, were medium-sweet with good shelf-life and coloured peels.
“All these second-generation hybrids are regular-bearing. Further, they are semi-dwarf and amenable to closer planting at 6 meterx6 meter, wherein you can accommodate roughly 278 trees in a hectare. This is as opposed to 100 or less in Dussehri, where only low-density plantation of 10mx10m and more is possible. Fruit yields, at 14-16 tonnes per hectare, are also higher than the 8-10 tonnes from traditional UP varieties without factoring in their alternate-bearing years,” explains Singh.
Farmers aren’t fully convinced, though some like Qazi Bilal Rasheed are willing to give the new hybrids a try. This 37-year-old third-generation grower from Kukra village in Malihabad has 400-odd trees – 70% Dussehri and 10% each of Langra, Chausa and Lucknow Safeda – on four hectares. On another one hectare, he has planted five one-year-old saplings each of Amrapali and Mallika. Last August, he also sourced scions (young shoots) of Pusa Arunima, Lalima, Pratibha and Shreshth from IARI for grafting onto 60 of his old Dussehri trees and transplanting their seedlings in the same orchard.
“I want to gradually replace the senile trees and go in for high-density plantation of the new hybrids. But I am also concerned whether there will be a market for these fruits. Unlike wheat, paddy and other seasonal crops, the actual performance of mango trees, including their suitability for our conditions, one can know only after 5-6 years,” says Rasheed.
Mango harvesting in UP starts in the last week of May with an early-season variety Saroli, also called Bombay Green. Dussehri and Langra are harvested from mid-June to early-July, while Lucknow Safeda and Chausa follow from early-July to early-August.
According to Swetanshu Chaturvedi, a fruit plant nursery owner at Ramnagar in Uttarakhand, the Pusa hybrids like Amrapali, Mallika, Arunima and Surya are harvested from late-July till mid-August. They enable farmers, then, to extend the season that normally ends with Chausa. “An orchard should ideally have trees of different varieties/hybrids to allow sales from late-May to mid-August or beyond. Currently, there is too much dependence on just Dussehri or Langra, which narrows the harvesting window and exposes growers to market risk,” he states.
Rasheed, however, isn’t sure if extending harvesting to August will help. “Once the monsoon sets in along with humidity, the mangoes become vulnerable to fungal attack and discolouration, affecting price realisations. The scientists need to address that through appropriate fungicides or cultivation practices,” he suggests.