Adverse winter hits summer fruits

Tuesday 19th Apr 2011 by theWeather Club

Mangoes taste great, are amusing to eat - if you are a fun-with-your-food kind of person - and with their tropical associations are a great way of transporting your mind to some sun drenched paradise thousands of miles away. They are also about to become rather scarce. A cold winter and unseasonably low rains in parts of India have led to a severe shortage of the much-loved Alphonso mango. The price of the sweet-tasting fruit, used throughout the continent in religious rituals as well as in popular drinks, has doubled from 2010 prices. Boxes of 12 mangoes are now selling for as much as 2,500 rupees (£34), as wholesalers compete with each other for plummeting supplies.

Growers say that the reason for the sharp decline is that parts of the Konkan region where the Alphonso is grown have been hit by a particularly harsh winter. "This is a coastal area and the temperature hardly drops below 17°C or 18°C," said Dr Subhash Chavan, a fruit research expert. "But it dipped [below that] for 65 days between December and February and as a result, the fertilisation process was adversely affected." Added to this, the region has seen lower than average rainfall in the spring, which has compounded the issue.

While being an inconvenience for us, the results of these adverse conditions could be a real problem for local economies across India. The continent produces nearly 13m tonnes of mangoes, about 40% of the world's output, with Maharashtra among the main producers. The Alphonso, locally known as the king of fruits, is hugely popular overseas, especially in the Middle East, Europe and the US. The Maharashtra State Agricultural Marketing Board says that production had dropped by around 30%, with the export of Alphonsos being badly affected. However according to Dr Vivek Bhide, who exports the mangoes to the US and Singapore, there has been only 10% of the normal yield in his region. He continued that he had been unable to complete export orders due to the shortages. "I have been in this business for 30 years, yet I have never experienced this kind of shortage before," he said.

On a wider note the bad weather has also hit India's onion crop, resulting in higher prices and a shortage of a staple food that is the foundation for thousands of meals amongst India's poor. With food inflation in India already running at 9.18% weather induced food price hikes are extremely unwelcome. It is another reminder about just how closely our fortunes are connected to the ever changing environment in which we live.