Jun 22, 2012

The local Aam-dani of Kolkata

After the bumper harvest of mangoes in 2010, the market prediction in Kolkata for the mango crop this year does not indicate a bounty again, suggesting a yield of only 1.75-2 lakh tonnes.

In 2009, the produce was as low as 1 lakh tonnes because of flooding due to bad weather, but was replaced by 2010's 2.75 lakh tonnes yield. The number of mango sellers at the Mahatma Gandhi Road Fruit Market this season are also lesser than they were last year, with competing higher yields of bananas, lime, and apples.

Mohammad Kaisar, a fruits vendor in the M.G.Road Fruit Mandi says "Last year, the lowest quality mangoes sold for Rs 40 a kg whereas this year, we are charging Rs 70 a kg. This year, the higher range mangoes like Alphonsos cost as much as Rs 600 a kg, but surprisingly, the market demand has not fallen." According to him, the mangoes that sell in the Kolkata market are mainly Gulabkhas and Hemsagar, but the best crop so far has been of the Madras and Srupnagar varieties. He added that this year, West Bengal is expecting a late crop closer to the end of the mango season around end June or some time in July.

The business model used in this market is quite unique-the mangoes can be sold at reasonable prices to the general public because the cost of production of the mangoes is kept minimal. This is because, according to the claim of most of the mango sellers, their crop is completely natural and the need for buying and using chemical fertilisers and pesticides do not arise. "We do not receive any form of subsidy from the government since each mandi acts as an autonomous public undertaking. The mangoes are grown on taxpayers' land but the mango sellers in the market are not taxed for this activity," says mango seller Mohammad Azmat.

Another interesting feature of this market is the mango open auctions, held daily during the mango season except on Sundays.  Mango cartons with close to 15 kgs of mango each are auctioned to local fruit sellers, who then sell it on a per kg basis to customers who come to the market. "Truckloads of 500 or more cartons of mangoes are sent from Andhra Pradesh, with different types of mangoes grown there like Gulabkhas, Totapari, and Begunbhuli. The cartons are opened in front of the public and whoever bids highest for a particular carton gets to buy it. The price of a carton can range from anything between Rs 200 to Rs 450," says M.D. Parwez Alam, a purchaser at the market auction.

In this set up, the transaction can be directly between the auctioneer at the mandi and the farmer, or middlemen may also be involved. This market uses a middleman setup, where the truck driver is paid approximately Rs 50 as transport charges on each carton by the farmer. In West Bengal, however, the local farmers directly send cartons of locally grown Hemsagar, Alphonsos, and Gulabkhas to the College Street Mandi, allowing the local farmers to profit more from the transaction.

(This article remained unpublished during my internship with Indian Express, Kolkata in May, 2011.)

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