Will cash crunch impact country's favourite fruit?
Mango farmers say they do not have cash to pay migrant labourers who arrive before flowering season to check for pests and fertilise plants
Mango flowers are prone to pests and need to be treated in time to ensure a good harvest, say farmers
Mangoes just might be in short supply next year, thanks to the demonetisation chaos, with farmers worried about how they will pay labourers who check and fertilise the crop when the trees flower.
Without this labour, the trees could be in danger of being infected by pests. Mango farmers in Ratnagiri usually hire daily wagers who arrive from Nepal only for the season, which is in November. With the current cash crunch, farmers are finding it extremely difficult to pay them.
Balasaheb Bhende, president, Fruit Merchants Welfare Association and former director, APMC, said, "Farmers from the Konkan have been calling me, worried about the impact demonetisation will have on mango cultivation."
Usually, mango trees start flowering by the second week of November and in order to protect them from pests, farmers need to start the pesticide process and engage labourers, who are given weekly wages. I have told them to put the process on hold for a few days until the situation is under control," Bhende said.
Cap in cash withdrawal
The government has capped withdrawal by farmers at R25,000 a week, but this is too little for them to meet their regular expenses. It is impossible to meet the expenses for these labourers on R25,000 a week, Bhende said.
Sachin Lanjekar, a mango farmer from Ratnagiri, Konkan, said from November, once flowering begins, it usually takes 100 to 110 days for the mangoes to be ready and then business season begins. The entire Konkan area gets nearly 25,000 migrant workers and we are unsure about how long it will take before the cash situation normalises. Moreover, these labourers do not have bank accounts in India, so the only mode of payment is cash.
Umesh Lanjekar another mango farmer from Ratnagiri, said, "I have tried to hire local labourers but, here, too, I have a problem as I do not have enough cash to pay them."
When asked about the impact of demonetisation on produce, Lanjekar said, "The Prime Minister has asked for 50 days, I would say take 60 days, but ensure that on the sixty-first day, everything is back to normal."
No. of migrant labourers who work during the flowering season
Dr Anand Kumar Singh, managing director, at National Horticulture Board, Ministry of Agriculture, Gurgaon, has a different view. He said, "During flowering, farmers do not need to invest heavily. Mango flowering is not an expensive affair. Pesticide is used depending on requirement. For example, if the weather is very humid or high temperatures prevail, a situation where mildew might appear and affect the flowers and subsequently the fruit, only then are pesticides used."
He added, "There are a thousand varieties of mango in our country, but only 15 of these are under commercial cultivation. India produces 19 million tonnes of mangoes and the major producers are Uttar Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh, Bihar and Telanga, followed by Maharashtra and other states. This year the climate is favourable for mangoes, and it is anticipated that the supply could be more than 20 million tonnes."
When asked about the impact of demonitisation on mangoes, Dr Singh is optimistic that the issue will be sorted out much before the mango season begins.