Climate change and unseasonal rain have dampened the prospects of mango farmers in Muthalamada, known for its early mango harvest and large-scale export of the fruit.

Late flowering of the fruit and the resultant delay in harvest has hit the Rs.300-crore annual export market. Muthalamada mangoes fetch a high price in the international fruit market mainly on account of early availability, from January.

Nearly 2,500 farmers in Muthalamada grama panchayat are engaged in mango farming on an acreage of 4,000 hectares. The annual production is 35,000 tonnes of high quality mangoes such as Alphonso, Malgova, Sindhooram, Kalapadi, Banganapilly, etc.

M. Haneefa, mango farmer and a leading exporter, told The Hindu that climate change and unseasonal rain in November and January over the last two years had deprived farmers of the ‘early bird' advantage. He said a pack of 6 kg. of mango fetched Rs.900 during the month of January. However, if production was delayed, the prices fell rapidly.

Hi-tech farming

Muthalamada is also known for its hi-tech facilities for sorting, grading, ripening, packing and export. The first modern facility for mango processing and export in the State — Chittur Agro Park — began functioning in Muthalamada last year with technical support from the Indian Institute of Horticulture Research, Bangalore. The Horticulture Mission Kerala has recognised it as a model unit for process and export of mango. The Rs.75-lakh agro park was set up with assistance from the National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development (NABARD).

Mango growers bring the product here to get it sorted, graded, ripened and packed for export or sale in domestic markets in cities such as Mumbai and Delhi. The Agro Park employs ethylene-based ripening, which is recognised internationally as a safe method for ripening of fruits. The park has ripening and pre-cooling chambers. Mangoes can be kept here for three weeks without rotting, said Becker Palliparambil, mango exporter to the Gulf markets and the man behind the Agro Park.

However, farmers now face the danger of their huge investment becoming a liability owing to change in mango flowering season due to climate change, he said. The park will function round the clock during the season to assist the farmers. Four tonnes of mango can be ripened at a time here.

Mango growers here had employed widespread use of chemical pesticides to kill fruit flies, which rupture the outer skin of the fruit to lay eggs. When the eggs hatch, the larvae feed on the pulp of the ripe fruit. Deputy Director of Agriculture Department Jose Varghese said these insects could be effectively controlled by the new methods used at the Agro Park. At present, calcium carbide is widely used for ripening mango. In this case, the acetylene gas generated is highly carcinogenic. This has to be strictly avoided. To get more orders and good prices in national and international markets, mango should be organically cultivated and ripened, he said.

But all these now depend on the vagaries of climate change.