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Monday, October 25, 2021
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Do you know some mangoes you eat are unhealthy?

By Mihir Mohanta

(Mango is one of the nutritionally rich fruit with unique flavour and fragrance. But much of the health benefits of mango depend on the post-harvest technology and supply chain. Sometimes the fruit is not ripened safely. Unsafe ripened mango is hazardous to health.)

India is the largest producer of mango in the world. It produces almost half of total world production. But it contributes to less than 1 % to the international mango trade. India consumes most of its own production.  Not that it is consumed in great quantity but there is great wastage as well. Mango would top the list, in wastage among the fruits & vegetables. Post-harvest losses in mango are indicated to be in the range of 17-37% of the production. Even what is consumed is not so healthy.

Mango fruit is one of the nutritionally rich fruit with unique flavour, fragrance and taste. It has numerous health benefits. It is rich in Vitamins (A, B, C, E and K). Mangoes are rich in iron and are beneficial for people suffering from anaemia. It has about 25 different kinds of carotenoids which keep our immune system healthy and strong. Mango fruit is relatively low on glycaemic index (41-60). It also contains an enzyme which is said to help in digestion. Soluble dietary fibre called pectin’s is also present in mango. These help to reduce the risk of cancer.

Mango has so much of health benefit that one must eat mango. But however, in reality it may not be true. That it has got nothing to do with mango per se, but much is dependent on our supply system. Many a times it is hazardous to health & even can causes cancer. You are never sure whether the ripen mango that you buy has been safely ripened. By and large mango ripening in India is done by carbide. This is a banned chemical that is rampantly used for ripening. Carbide is reported to be carcinogenic in nature.

It would be interesting to understand our supply system and how innocently we are so much used to take carbide ripened mango. The mangoes are plucked in green stage and transported largely in lorry. The earliest supplies from Kerala hit the Azadpur mandi as early as January. The price of a kg of safeda then could be as high as 300Rs/-.This would be almost 7/8 times higher than the peak season price. Since the prices are lucrative, farmers tend to harvest them early even if immature. The immature mangoes do not ripen properly in natural ethylene ripening methods. They do not attain colour or their taste. These are force ripened with carbide for attaining colour. For a customer these look brightly coloured red & yellow ready to eat stuff. Such mangoes are easily available at customers door steps in readies, in road sides or in large fruit & vegetable stores. The temptation to pick them up is high because of the look and colour.

The biggest chunk of mango available in Delhi is “Safeda”. Safeda is nothing but the variety called “Baigoanpalli” which is grown in Andhra Pradesh and parts of Tamil Nadu. The name “Safeda” has been coined in Delhi. The immature harvested mango on forced carbide ripening attains bright colour outside, but the inner flesh still remains white. Because of the white colour of the flesh it is called “Safeda”.

Mango is mostly harvested in green stage. Hardly there is any mango which is tree ripened. The reason is simple. Once ripened, mango cannot be transported. There is nothing wrong in harvesting mango in green stage. But what is incorrect is to harvest immature mango for ripening purpose. The simple indicators of maturity are hard stones, shoulder appearances and streaks of turning colours. The art of harvesting is crucial for quality of mango. It is a common phenomenon that mango when detached from the stalk the “sap” oozes out. Sap is acidic in nature so where ever it drops creates burning marks. The trick is to harvest it with a long stalk (2/3 cm). It prevents sap from falling on the body of the fruit. It keeps the mango clean. A clean mango fetches better price. But there is very little awareness on this among our farmers. As a result of this, value loss is booked at the time of the harvest itself.

Mango arrivals are a prelude to the monsoon flow. After Kerala, mango from Kankan coast arrives. The best of the variety, Alphonso is grown in this region. It is famous for its taste & flavour. It is grown in the tracts of Padel, Ratnagiri & Vengurla, This is also popularly called as “ Hapus” Alphonso. The geographical and the climatic conditions of the region are suitable for growing Alphanso. The same Alphanso grown in other places do not bear the  similar taste and flavour profile. A large part of the Alphanso grown in the region is sold in Mumbai market. It is sold in dozens by size of the fruits. Farmers are very much aware of the price quality relationship. They do take care on the post-harvest management practices. Some of the farmers do have sales linkages with Mumbai trade. However part of the 2nd flush & 3rd flush of mango goes for processing also. For processing it is the quantity demand of the processor that determines the price. The season remains short for about 3 -4 weeks. In the west coast  Ratnagiri is followed by Valsad & Mysore/ Ramgarh. Very little of Ratnagiri Alphanso actually is available in Delhi markets. Most of the time it is either a duplicate variety or from other origins like Valsad or Banglore.

Farmers grow mangos in orchards. Farmers in South and parts of West treat it as commercial crops. They provide the plants with nutrients, water and the required protection from disease and pest. While most farmers in East and treat these  like forest  plant. They let the plant to grow of its own without any management practices. This leads to erratic fruit setting. In case there is good fruit, they call it an “on year” or else it is “off year”. A farmer sells mangoes in 3 ways. He grows and sells directly in either retail or wholesale. He can grow and sell the fruits while still in tree to a trader. Trader does the harvesting sells. Sometimes it so happens that orchards are given long term leases, for 3 or 5 years.

Generally the raw mangoes are taken to the mandi’s for sales There are different types of mand’s some are APMC managed, some private mandi’s and a few are also kishan mandis. Some mandies in Vijaywada are also called bandh mandi. These are mandis where buyers and sellers are also fixed.  Besides  the regular, the commission agent in these cases also gets a seasonal commission on  basis the turn over. Mandi’s consists of large number of traders, commission agents and buyers. These agents serve as link between buyers and sellers. Most of the agents do forwarding to the consumption centre markets like Mumbai, Delhi, Kolkotta, Patna, Srinager or Bhubaneswar. An agent serves as centres of aggregation. They pool mangoes from different farmers and they grade these basis variety, size, maturity  and look. They have designated quality for different markets like for Delhi they needs to send “A” grade  while  for Patna they would  be sending Only B” and C” grades only.

Fruit traders of the large mandi’s like Azadpur operates through the production area agents or send their own team to camp at their production area forwarding. They carry their own boxes/ marka for packing of mango. They generally buy out the farmer’s orchards after looking at the extent fruit borne in the plants.

Post Andhra, the market arrivals picks up from Odhisha, Bengal & Bihar. Mangoes from UP  to Azadpur mandi are available in end June or July. Sometimes it continues till mid  of August. Post UP it is only Pakistan mangoes that are available in the Delhi markets.

The box packing takes place at the aggregating mandi’s. At the time of the packing, the packers put a couple of sachets of the “calcium carbide”. These sachets are very handy for use.  The practice is very convenient to trade. One it saves on extra time required for ripening, two it also reduces the cycle time and hence working capital availability. Even if the carbide ripening is legally banned, it is most prevalent for the fact that there is not enough of ripening capacity available in India. If enforced strictly, 90% of the mangoes cannot be ripened for want of infrastructure. However, the carbide ripening has serious repercussion on the health of the consumers. While transporting mangoes care should be taken to these are packed in well cushioned, ventilated packs and moved in wooden bodied ventilated trucks. Burning injury & ripening during transit are common issues for long distance transportation.

A simple technology practiced in households to trigger ripening is to keep un-ripened and ripened fruits together inside an air tight container. Since the already ripened fruits release ethylene, ripening will be faster. Another method is to place the fruits intended for ripening inside an air tight room and induce ripening through smoking inside. A litmus test can be taken up to detect the carbide ripened mangoes. When the calcium carbide comes in contact with water, it forms calcium hydroxide, a compound that can be detected with a simple litmus test.  Dip a litmus paper in water and rub it on the mango. If it turns blue, it indicates the presence of calcium carbide.

In India, most of our investments are for crop production. If we invest in post of harvest technology and supply chain infrastructure, it would significantly reduce our wastage and improve safe fruit consumption.

(Views expressed by the author are of his own. The author has been working for more than 22 years in the sourcing & supply chain in the food industry.)