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Prices soar for India's 'king of fruits'

April 13, 2011

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mangoes india
This picture taken on April 11, 2011 shows an Indian trader using his mobile phone near a stand of mangoes at the landmark Crawford market in Mumbai. - Photo by AFP

MUMBAI: Unseasonal rains and a cold winter have hit India's mango crop, decimating the summer harvest and sending prices soaring, traders say, as Indians grapple with the rising cost of staple foods.

The price of the sweet-tasting fruit, which is used in everything from wedding rituals and religious ceremonies to alcoholic mixers, has doubled from last year, with boxes of a dozen now selling for 700 to 2,500 rupees ($16-$56).

India is the world's largest mango producer and is home to nearly 1,000 varieties.

But the price spike means the normal frenzy surrounding their seasonal sale has failed to materialise with consumers already feeling the pinch from earlier food price rises.

“This is a waste of money,” said Pravin Damle, as he shopped for the fruit at Mumbai's historic Crawford Market. “We love mangoes but it is beyond my budget.

“I need to gift some mangoes but I will wait until prices drop.” Unseasonal rains in western India last October and a prolonged cold snap over the winter affected the crop and has resulted in a supply shortfall since the three-month season began in April, traders say.

The bad weather also hit India's onion crop, leading to a shortage of the staple that provides the foundation for thousands of dishes, and a sharp rise in prices earlier this year.

Sanjay Pansare, director at the Maharashtra state agricultural market in Navi Mumbai, said wholesalers had only received about 20,000 boxes of 60 to 100 mangoes for sale in Mumbai – a 75-80 per cent fall year-on-year.

“People will not be able to stuff themselves with mangoes this season,” he added.

The country produces nearly 13 million metric tonnes of mangoes – about 40 per cent of the world's output -- with Maharashtra state among the main producers.

The orange-yellow coloured Alphonso mango, dubbed locally “the king of fruits”, is a hugely popular variety overseas, particularly in the Middle East, Europe and the United States.

Kisan S. Bheke, proprietor of Shree Ganesh fruit stall in Crawford Market, said he would send fewer mangoes to the markets of Dubai and Kuwait this year.

“Supplies are weak. Until these improve, exports will be limited,” said the 70-year-old.

Another trader, Arvind Morde, whose family have sold and exported mangoes for three generations, said he hoped supplies would pick up by the end of April.

“It is not that people will stop eating mangoes... they will just consume less,” he added.

The cost of living, particularly food staples, including fruits and vegetables, milk and eggs has been high in India in recent months.

Food inflation is currently running at 9.18 per cent and India, like its Asian rival China, is struggling to balance inflation with economic expansion.

Some manufacturers of mango-based products remain bullish in the face of this year's mango shortage, saying the price increases will not affect business.

Coca-Cola India, which makes India's biggest-selling fruit drink “Maaza” using mango pulp, said it expects demand to be strong.

The soft drink major says its strategy will be to offer different products and packages at varying prices, to cope with rising raw material and freight costs.