A dense and dark green alphonso mango orchard spread over five hectares in Purnagad village along the Konkan coast of Maharashtra, wears a barren look. The usual pinkish-white buds that appear in January and fill the air with the aroma of the local mango variety, are not seen this year. Anirudha Tahmankar, a farmer who cultivates Alphonso mangoes here, restlessly walks and looks closely at the branches of trees examining the bumps that should break into buds. Other than on 10-15 trees, out of 500, there are no signs of flowers.

The alphonso mango from the Konkan region of Maharashtra is popular in India and around the world for its taste and aroma. It has been granted a Geographical Identification tag from the Geographical Indication Registry of India, used on products that have a specific geographical origin and possess qualities or a reputation that are due to that origin. Over 50,000 tonnes of alphonso mangoes are exported to the United States, European Union, Middle Eastern countries, Australia and Japan every year, as per the Agriculture Produce Market Committee of Maharashtra, a marketing board for farmers set up by the state government.

Weather patterns

“Bud breaks appear on at least 15% of the trees in the first batch as soon as the temperature drops down in the middle of November. By December, 15%-20% of the other trees and by end of January, all the trees have bud breaks,” said Bharat Salvi, head of department of horticulture, Dr Balasaheb Sawant Konkan Krishi Vidyapeeth.

The change in weather patterns in late 2019 is likely to have impacted the flowering. “There should be a difference of 15 degrees Celsius in maximum and minimum temperatures of the day for the bud to break. This time, the maximum and minimum temperatures till the end of December [2019] were around 30 degrees Celsius and 18-19 degrees Celsius, respectively. Rainfall was too heavy amounting to 5000 mm, against 3500 mm every year and it extended beyond its normal duration up to the first week of November,” said AK Srivastava, scientist, India Meteorological Department, Pune.

According to Salvi, the soil should remain dry for a month which generally happens in October. The monsoons in Maharashtra in 2019 went on beyond October. Additionally, two back to back cyclones Kyarr and cyclone Maha hit the Konkan region in early November. Since then there are heavy winds and cloudy skies and farmers are worried that this weather will affect mango, a delicate fruit.

The stress of cold for 10-15 days creates an environment for bud break. But this time, the temperature has begun to drop in the first week of January, followed by two to three cloudy days. Such weather would be harmful for mangoes,” said Salvi. “Production of mangoes will be 30%-40% less this year due to lack of flowering, and alphonso mangoes will be available by the end of April, unlike mid- March every year.”

Tahmankar, a commerce graduate, said, “Due to consistent rain and humid weather, new leaves are breaking instead of buds. I have been applying paclobutrazol, a hormone that increases bud break or flowering, to the soil. But in this weather, paclobutrazol also will not work.”

Anirudha Tahmankar examines a mango tree for flowering. Credit: Varsha Torgalkar/Mongabay

Worried farmers

In Konkan farms, 100 trees are grown on one hectare generally and give three tonnes of mangoes in one season. Around 150,000 hectares of land is under alphonso cultivation in five districts of Konkan – Ratnagiri, Sindhudurg, Raigad, Thane and Palghar. Ratnagiri and Sindhudurg are major producers of alphonso.

Anand Desai, an exporter of alphonso mangoes, stays on a mango orchard spread over 30 hectares. Along with his brother, he owns over 9,000 trees. “Half of the trees are yet to start flowering. Generally, these trees produce 500 tonnes of mangoes every year but this year I am not sure how much I would get,” said Desai. “I have been seeing changes in production due to major changes in weather for the last three years. In general, since Phyan Cyclone hit Konkan in 2009, the production of mangoes have been going down every year gradually. Earlier, production would be consistent every alternate year as mango is alternate year crop.”

In addition to the lack of flowering, changes in weather have also brought in pests like thrips that damage the mango trees, said Desai. “Incidents of pest attacks have increased. Though I make sure to minimise use of pesticides, immunity towards pesticides of these pests has also increased.”

Alphonso mangoes that are available from March are sold at high rates, which start dropping down after April, as mangoes from Karnataka also come into the market.

Over 50,000 tonnes of alphonso mangoes are exported globally from Maharashtra each year. Credit: HungryKya/Wikimedia Commons

Marginal farmers who cultivate mangoes on a smaller land will bear the brunt of changes in weather. Suhas Amore, a farmer, who has 40 trees on half a hectare of land in Bagwadi village in Ratnagiri district, is worried as half of mango trees are yet to get flowers. Amore said, “I had taken a mango orchard on lease four years ago. I was expecting production, at least one tonne, but there is no flowering yet. I am worried as I have invested a good amount of money in regular weeding, pesticides, fertilisers and off course labour. I pay Rs 9,000 to two labourers who work at my farm.”

Like Amore, many small farmers have either taken land on lease or bought small plots to cultivate mango that has proven as cash crop in the past few decades. All of them have 20 to 200 trees and the farmers, as well as the labourers working on the farm, will suffer drastically.

Vivek Bhide, who heads Konkan Hapus Amba Utpadak Sangh or the Konkan Alphonso Producers Organisation, who began the movement encouraging alphonso producers to get their mango GI tagged before sending to market, said, “Bad weather like untimely rain [and] heavy winds have been causing reduction of production for the last few years. Government needs to take steps so that farmers would get in cycle of loans.”

An IMD scientist said that while no study has been carried out to establish whether these changes in weather are linked to climate change, but it is likely that these are climate change effects.

Suhas Amore, who has 40 trees on half a hectare of land in Bagwadi in Ratnagiri, is worried as half of mango trees are yet to get flowers. Credit: Varsha Torgalkar/Mongabay

This article first appeared on Mongabay.