The Alphonso of Maharashtra may have markets in the West drooling over it but the lip-smacking mangoes from West Bengal have not made it to foreign shelves yet, simply owing to export handicaps.
The popular mango varieties - Himsagar and Lakshmanbhog - are lying neglected, as the quality checks required for exporting do not exist in the state. "Our entire initiative got stuck just because we don't have a mango monitoring unit in the state to help mango growers meet global standards," Anup Dutta, CEO of West Bengal Agri-Horti Exporters' Association (WBAHEA), told IANS.
He said there was a huge demand for Bengal's mangoes in the London market, which is considered the global import hub of agri-horti products. "Last year, an effort was made to introduce Bengal's mangoes in the global market. We did a pilot project by exporting Himsagar and Lakshmanbhog to foreign markets in Britain, Germany and France. We received a very good response and this year we have orders for exporting over 100 tonnes of mango from West Bengal," he said.
Dutta formed WBAHEA in 2006, the only forum for agri-horti exporters in the state, and explored the international market for Bengal's mangoes. "WBAHEA is ready to export Himsagar and Lakshmanbhog to potential markets in Europe and the Middle East. Later, the association plans to export other varieties like Langra, Mallika and Amropali to foreign markets," said Dutta.
"But our plans are in a limbo because of the absence of a monitoring unit here for quality checks."
Sudhanshu Seal, MP of West Bengal's ruling Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) , admitted that lack of infrastructure was the primary hindrance. "We don't have any simulation unit here in West Bengal which will take care of quality control measures. We have already communicated our problem at different levels of the state government and the centre. We are hopeful of getting such a unit in our state by next year," he said.
India is the largest producer of mangoes in the tropical world with at least 25 varieties grown in the country. With an output of 585,000 tonnes, West Bengal ranks seventh in the country in mango production.
Almost 60 percent of total mango production is consumed within the state. The main mango growing areas in West Bengal are Malda, Murshidabad, Nadia and North 24 Parganas.
WBAHEA with the help of the state government is trying to open two selling units in London and Manchester so that West Bengal's mango growers can send their products directly to the units in Britain.
A request has been made for a fund of Rs.1.5 million from the state government to undertake some revival programmes but that has also not come about till date, a WBAHEA official said.
Seal, who has supported agri-horti export oriented activities from West Bengal, said the export of Alphonso and Kesar - two popular varieties of mangoes from India's western region - has been possible because of a strong quality control unit in Maharashtra.
"We are concentrating on certain points such as global requirement, packaging and quality control in exporting mangoes. Very recently, Japan and America have also shown interest in importing the fruit from India. An exercise is under way to rejuvenate the old mango orchards in West Bengal," he added.
The first ever Indian mango festival will also be hosted in the US at the end of June this year. The 250 company-strong US-India Business Council (USIBC) will herald the journey of the first batch of Indian mangoes to the US markets this summer with a mango-tasting festival.
According to the US consulate sources in Kolkata, West Bengal Industry Minister Nirupam Sen - who was supposed to head the Indian delegation - has not yet confirmed his visit.
(Soudhriti Bhabani can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org )