A bumper yield of mango crop in Bihar, combined with early ripening of the fruit due to the severe heat this summer, has left growers perspiring over considerable potential losses, instead of profits they were hoping for.
Not all are complaining though.
People who could not afford to put the ‘king of fruits’ on the plate for their families are making merry this time, since the fruit is now available as low as Rs.5 to Rs.8 per kg in some pockets of Bihar.
"It may sound a bit strange or simply unbelievable, but different varieties of mango are selling for as low as Rs.5 to Rs.8 in some pockets of Bihar, thanks to overproduction and severe heat wave that caused the fruit to ripen faster," an official said on Monday.
An estimated 85,000 tonnes of mangoes have been harvested in Bhagalpur district this season, said V.K. Pandit, a horticulture official in Bhagalpur.
A record production and less demand from neighbouring Jharkhand and other parts of Bihar led to low prices of mangoes, he pointed out.
"Rain earlier this season helped mangoes to grow fast and subsequent high temperature helped ripen them faster, making a perfect recipe for disaster," said Viswa Bandhu Patel, chairman of the horticulture department at Bihar Agricultural University in Sabour, Bhagalpur.
Orchard owners and fruit suppliers in Bhagalpur and Banka are clearly not amused with the situation.
"We expected to earn more money this year owing to a good harvest. But overproduction and fast ripening of the fruit due to severe heat wave has led to a glut and drastic drop in mango prices. It has, in turn, left us disappointed," griped mango grower Hardeo Singh.
Prakash Mandal, another mango grower, said more than 50 percent of mangoes had been plucked and sold so far in the region.
"There is a possibility of more glut, which may lead to further drop in prices in the coming days," he said resignedly.
On the other hand, mango lovers like Mubarak Ansari of Bhagalpur district and Saryu Mandal of neighbouring Banka district were smiling from ear to ear while discussing the mango prices.
They pointed out that the best quality mango varities like Malda, Jardalu, Gulabkhas and Biju were selling at unbelivably cheaper prices in rural areas.
"I am purchasing mangoes at Rs.5 to Rs.8 per kg this season, thanks to a bumper crop," Ansari gleefully announced. Ansari works as a labourer in Delhi but is currently visiting his native village.
"In early June, I was in Delhi where mangoes were selling for Rs.80 to Rs.100 per kg. The fruit is simply beyond our reach there," he said.
Even in Patna, mangoes are selling for Rs.40 to Rs.50 per kg.
A father of five, Ansari said that availablity of mangoes in the local market at very cheap prices enabled him to ensure that his family had its fill of the ‘king of fruits’ on a daily basis.
Mandal – a landless farmer earning his livelihood as a daily wage labourer in and outside Bihar – said that mangoes were selling cheaper like never before.
"We have simply replaced vegetables with mangoes in our meals along with rice and bread. It is simple economics: Two kg of mangoes cost between Rs.10 and Rs.12 in Shahabganj block in Banka," he said.
An industry body, Assocham, conducted a survey in the last week of May and pointed out that mangoes were selling at Rs.100 per kg in retail markets. Premium variety Alphonso was costing Rs.200 to Rs.400 per dozen, since unseasonal rains had led to fruit crop losses up to 50 percent in some states.
More than half of the lower middle class population in India is forced to skip or squeeze its monthly budget to ensure fresh fruit in diet owing to rising prices of seasonal fruit, the survey said.
Whatever the survey may say, residents of Bhagalpur and Banka districts of Bihar are not complaining. At least, not this summer season!