March 5: Recommending an Osama omelette to the US President was fine, but the CPM would have done better to put in a word for Bengal’s langda and himsagar.
With George W. Bush’s visit putting an end to the US ban on Indian mangoes, a huge market has opened up before the fruit’s exporters, possibly from this season itself.
But Bengal could miss out on the juicy opportunity. The US President, who said he is looking forward to tasting Indian mangoes, might not get to savour the langda, himsagar or lakshmanbhog in a hurry.
The reason is the tyranny of the alphonso over the mango world, which leaves others among the fruit’s more than 1,000 varieties marginalised.
India produces almost 11 million tonnes of the fruit ' more than the rest of the world combined ' every year. It exports 35,000 to 40,000 tonnes, mainly to Europe and West Asia, earning about Rs 110 crore.
The alphonso rules this market, too, whatever Bengalis may have to say about the superiority of the langda or the himsagar.
One reason, said Prabhakaran Nair of fruit exporter Yepees, is lack of marketing.
“We are part of the business, but it is strange that we haven’t even heard the names of many other varieties. We have heard that there are so many varieties in eastern India, but we don’t know them. There is no marketing.”
He named the langda from northern and eastern India and Malgova from Kerala as two neglected but high-quality varieties.
“Malgova gets exported to Gulf because a lot of Malayalis live there, but langda is very perishable,” he added.
But the langda has its supporters outside Bengal, too.
“I don’t know why people go for the alphonso when there is the langda, himsagar and golapkhaas in the market,” a wholesale fruit seller in Mumbai grumbled. The alphonso is expensive, too, costing Rs 350 a dozen in Mumbai and Rs 720 for 15 fruits in the Gulf, the biggest foreign market for mangoes.
Exporter Sachin Ruparel explained alphonso’s march: it is high on flavour and taste, has a lot of “meat” and can weather being shipped to distant countries, such as Canada.
Alphonso’s taste and flavour are just right for foreign buyers, who have now acquired a taste for it, another exporter said. “Once we exported mangoes from Uttar Pradesh to France, but they did not like it because they were too sweet.”
“The best alphonsos come from Ratnagiri and deogarh in Maharashtra. Then come kesar from Surat, walsad and Rajkot, and rajapuri from the same places in Gujarat,” Ruparel said.
But kesar and rajapuri are a small fraction of Indian mangoes crossing the seas. “Kesar, light orange in colour -- unlike alphonso, which is dark orange -- smells more sweet, while rajapuri smells sour,” Ruparel added.
The biggest foreign markets for the mango are Bangladesh and the Gulf nations such as Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain and UAE. In Europe, the UK and the Netherlands are the leading importers.
America, Japan and Australia, however, had banned Indian mangoes after fruit flies were found in some consignments.
“Very little pesticides can be used to grow mangoes meant for export, for even traces of these chemicals in the fruit would lead to rejection. Hence the fruit flies,” an exporter explained.
A special vapour heat treatment plant has now been set up to rid the consignments of fruit flies. Some headway has been made with Japan, too, over lifting the ban.
The opening of the US market would help the farmers, too, said Ajmal Hussain, a mango exporter from Uttar Pradesh. ‘‘We will abide by the American norm of irradiation of mangoes before exporting them.”