COVID-19 and Cyclone Amphan: Malda’s Mango growers bear the brunt

Livelihood of at least 0.4 mln people dependent on mango trade has been badly affected in Malda 

By Gurvinder Singh
Published: Monday 01 June 2020
Representative image. Malda district produced around five lakh metric tonnes of mangoes every year across 31,000 hectares — most of which has been destroyed in Cyclone Amphan. Photo: Pexels

The novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) and Cyclone Amphan have cast a long shadow on mango growers in several districts of West Bengal — with livelihood of at least 0.4 million farmers and traders badly affected in Malda district alone. 

Malda produces around 0.5 million tonnes of mangoes every year across 31,000 hectares — most of which has been destroyed due to Cyclone Amphan.

Nripen Das (47) lost at least 25 quintal mangoes to the cyclone. He grew mangoes on 16-hectare land that he took on lease from other farmers.

“We were already facing severe losses due to the lockdown. Cyclone Amphan destroyed whatever little was left.  The fruits on my trees have changed colour due to the cyclone,” he said.

The harvesting season in Malda starts from the first week of June and lasts till July / first week of August.

Mangoes are also extensively grown in South 24 parganas, Murshidabad and Nadia districts. The state is one of the largest contributors of mangoes in the country.

West Bengal produces over 150 varieties of mangoes; langra, himsagar and fazli are the most sought after varieties.

Unseasonal rains add to woes

Eid was a lacklustre affair for farmers in Malda as many of them tried to make sense of the losses incurred.  Sayed Nurul Islam (50), a mango farmer at Poranpur village in Malda, said he did not wish people even on the phone, “How could I have celebrated Eid when the cyclone took away everything I had? Around 95 per cent of the mango trees had flowers around February this year and we were expecting a bumper season.”

He added that around 70 per cent flowers were wiped off in unseasonal rains and hailstorms in March.

“The village lost around 1,000 tonnes of mangoes and I around 50 tonnes,” he said.

“We sprayed fungicides on the trees to stop the spread of diseases in March-April. But we did not get any labourers because of the lockdown. The fruits now face the danger of getting affected with diseases,” said Mofikul Islam, a mango farmer in Murshidabad district.

Scientists said inclement weather is a problem every year, but the lockdown and cyclone Amphan added to the farmers’ woes.

“Labour shortage emerged in mango producing areas because several areas came under red zone. The situation might not turn normal unless the markets open up properly,” said Rakesh Roy, senior scientist at Malda Krishi Vigyan Kendra.

He added that during a teleconferencing of agro experts with farmers, the latter were advised to tackle the problems with their crops after the cyclone. “Vegetables growers, too, are suffering because of perishable nature of their products,” he said.

Farmers seek bailout 

Mango traders have also written to the Union government seeking subsidy to farmers.

“We were expecting around 0.4 million tonnes of mangoes in Malda alone. We had already lost two lakh metric tonnes in unseasonal rains and another one lakh metric tonnes in the cyclone. There were no buyers for the remaining 0.1 million tonnes,” said Ujjal Saha, president, Malda Mango Marchant’s Association.

He added that the district sells fruits to states like Assam and Tripura, but they haven’t received any orders so far from them.

“We have written a letter to the central food processing and horticulture department last week seeking bailout package for farmers by calculating losses per hectare,” he added.

Saha was sceptical if farmers would be able to grow mangoes next year due to the heavy, long-term damage incurred.

When contacted, the state government officials said they were looking into the matter.

 “We are preparing a list of the areas where the damage is over 33 per cent and sending it to senior officials. Initially the farmers faced problems with the procurement of fertilizers and fungicides, but those have been sorted out,” said Babai Das, deputy director (in-charge), horticulture department, Malda.

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