Nirupama Reddy’s phone has been ringing non stop since the first week of April. Friends and customers are constantly enquiring about the arrival of Banganapalli mangoes from her family-owned farm at Othivakkam, near Chengalpet. “The mango season has had a delayed start this year, and yield has been much lesser due to incessant rains during the flowering season. On our farm, mangoes will be ready for harvesting only by the first week of June [two months later than usual]. Which is why our customers have been anxiously calling us,” she says.
At her Hanu Reddy Raghava Farms, the yield has been drastically hit. Normally, they harvest 60 tonnes of fruit during the season, but this year they are doubtful of getting even 10 tonnes. The situation is the same in farms across the state, unable to satiate the usual demand for mangoes in the months of May and June.
Nevertheless Hanu Reddy Farms will be re-launching its Great Mango Festival to reconnect with customers, inviting families to their farm to spend a day harvesting mangoes, playing traditional games, taking bullock cart rides and sampling traditional food served on a 150 foot-long wooden table. (The event is slated for June 11 and 12, 18 and 19, between 6 am and 12 noon.)
Srinivasan Jayapal, of Salem Mangoes, saw less than 50 percent yield this year, and adds that farmers who tried to salvage damage by sprinkling pesticides could not save it due to the rains. “We procure mangoes from farmers in Salem, Namakkal, Dharmapuri, Krishnagiri and Erode. As the supply is lesser, the cost has doubled this year and so people are buying less.” He adds that quality has been affected as well, “The sweetness in mango is much less. In our region it is Nadusalai, pether, imam pasand, Salem Gundu, Salem Bengalura, Kudaadath and malgova that are most popular.”
“We enjoyed an abundance of supply last year with an extraordinary taste and sweetness, but this year, it is just the opposite,” says Divya Pamuru of Chennai-based Namma Suvai, which supports organic and sustainable farming. “Rain affected the flowering. Then, the recent rains damaged the fruits just before harvest, which makes them rot quickly,” she says, adding, “Whatever fruits we got this year, the taste is compromised. Premium varieties such as Imam pasand and malgova are of even lesser yield.”
All about timing
Manjula Gandhi Rooban, founder and CEO, Mangopoint, says that besides climatic conditions, another factor that affected mangoes this year was a hurried mango harvest by some farmers. “Mango harvesting is to be done with utmost care. We source our mangoes from in and around Thiruvallur district, where we ask farmers to harvest with the three-centimeter stem intact, or else we refuse to buy. The milk that oozes out of the stem can affect shelf life,” she explains.
Thiruvallur district is also home to the 150-acred Reddy’s Organic Farm, in Anaipakkam village. The farm’s proprietor Sanga Reddy says he too prefers to wait till the mangoes begin to ripen in the trees, before harvesting. Soon after the harvest, he sends dispatches to organic shops in Chennai. He also makes and sells mango pulp, in addition to mozzarella cheese made from native cow’s milk, goat milk cheese, and the region’s signature vaikuntam samba rice.
This summer, Sanga is now banking on the fact that at his farm, visitors can spend a day and enjoy the farm life. “We provide breakfast and lunch and families can spend time observing farm activities and take a dip in the pool. Mango and cheese tasting are also included in the package,” says Sanga Reddy.
Prasanna Venkatarathinam, co-founder of Mangopoint, says that hardly five percent of mangoes could be graded export quality this year. “This district has over 9,000 hectares of mango groves and yields more than 50,000 metric tonnes of mangoes every year. This the second largest mango growing belt in India next to Uttar Pradesh. First grade mangoes are earmarked for export and our domestic online customers,” he adds.
At their packhouse and storage facility in Thiruvallur, 10 women from the nearby villages are employed for washing, grading, sorting and packing of mangoes, that are normally sent to the US, Singapore and parts of Europe. With this operation hit hard this year, the team is shifting focus.
The second and third-grade yield — which is the bulk of this year’s produce — is being put to other uses. “We also have a solar drying facility at our packhouse, where we dehydrate mangoes and vacuum pack them. We also offer mango pulp, mango muesli, mango energy bars and mango sauce and jams,” says Prasanna.
“As we had a late start, we are hopeful that the mango season will last a little longer, say until the end of July, but the varieties available would also be less. The arrival of Rumani indicates the end of mango season,” says Manjula. Until then, there is still some fun to be had.