Five years on, how GI tag failed Hapus | Mumbai news - Hindustan Times

Five years on, how GI tag failed Hapus

ByNiraj Pandit, Ratnagiri
Apr 30, 2023 12:59 AM IST

Despite being awarded a GI tag in 2018, farmers in India's Konkan region are concerned about the rampant adulteration of the Alphonso mango, or Hapus, with cheaper varieties. The GI tag was meant to protect the produce and give farmers legal protection, but the lack of strict enforcement of quality standards and inadequate monitoring and testing facilities has led to a rash of national and international variants being sold as Hapus. Farmers are calling for a collective effort to garner the benefits of the GI tag, including strict enforcement of quality standards and public awareness campaigns.

The sweet promise of Alphonso, or Hapus, is famously known to lift flagging spirits in a sweltering summer. A collective exhilaration felt over the arrival of the first box of mangoes from the orchards of Ratnagiri never gets old, and the mango aficionado does not shy away from paying over 2,000 for a box of 12 when the first stash hits the shops.

Devgad, Sindhudurg, India - March 23, 2023: Mango worker segregating mangos as per size in Devgad Amba utpadak sangh, Jamsande, Sindhudurg, India, on Thursday, March 23, 2023. (Photo by Anshuman Poyrekar/ Hindustan Times) (Hindustan Times)
Devgad, Sindhudurg, India - March 23, 2023: Mango worker segregating mangos as per size in Devgad Amba utpadak sangh, Jamsande, Sindhudurg, India, on Thursday, March 23, 2023. (Photo by Anshuman Poyrekar/ Hindustan Times) (Hindustan Times)

But can you be certain that you are really biting into a Devgad Alphonso? Because just about 500 kilometers from Mumbai, farmers who have toiled hard to bring you the pristine fruit from their farms to your tables are a crestfallen lot as their efforts have been systematically hijacked by producers of lesser breeds and shrewd middlemen who know how to trick the buyer.

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Over the last five to six years, Indian markets have seen a rash of national and international variants that are passed off as Hapus – they arrive from a distant Malawi, in South-east Africa, as well as neighbouring states of Maharashtra. While the average consumer is easily duped, farmers, whose produce is already GI (Geographical Index) tagged, are a frustrated lot. Hapus received the GI tag in 2018.

Five years later, it emerges that GI-tagging a product is not a guarantee of authenticity, security and legal protection, as promised. Initially, it boosted the prices of products and lent them some authenticity, which made farmers happy. But it was fleeting.

Hapus, known for its rich creamy and non-fibrous texture, is a much sought after produce from across the world. Today, farmers in the Konkan region, where the fruit is primarily grown, are concerned about rampant adulteration. Their investment of time and money in cultivating the high-quality mangoes often comes to naught, affecting their livelihood and reputation.

Santosh Kumbhar, 47, a mango farmer from a village in Ratnagiri said, “One of the most common forms of adulteration in the Alphonso mango market is the practice of replacing four to five mangos in a crate of dozen with cheaper varieties. This practice not only cheats the consumers but also affects the reputation of Alphonso. The adulterated mangoes are sold at the same price as the genuine ones, causing a loss to the consumers as well as farmer. We have now started selling our mangoes on our own.”

Kumbhar is not the only one. Yogesh Lele, a mango farmer from Devgad, said, “Consumers are unaware of the benefits of GI tag. Since we had a poor yield this year, obtaining even 10 boxes of the produce at the end of April in Devgad was a challenge. Despite this, markets across the country are selling different types of mangoes under the Devgad Alphonso brand at high prices. This can be prevented with government scrutiny.” Lele continues cultivating his family orchards that has 1000 Alphonso trees.

Kashinath Ghadi, the owner of a small orchard comprising 100 trees at Bapere village near Lanja, said, “Despite most processing units selecting Alphonso from my orchard, adulteration occurs during transportation from the farm to the processing unit. As a result, the processing units have often rejected my mangoes. This has hit my income. We hoped we were protected by the GI tag, but that was not the case. I have yet to earn a fixed income since 2018.” This year, Ghadi faced monetary losses due to adulteration as one company rejected 25 kgs of the 75 kgs he sent for processing.

Approximately 10,000 of mango growers in the region are yet to reap the benefits of GI. Awarded under the Geographical Indications (Registration and Protection) Act 1999, GI, as the World Intellectual Property Organisation defines, is a sign used on products that have a specific geographical origin and possess qualities or a reputation that are due to that origin. Spread over 200 kms in the Konkan belt, Hapus orchards occupy 1.8 lakh hectares of land, measuring up to nearly 6% of the mango region in the country.

The reason behind the lapses is the lack of strict enforcement of quality standards, inadequate monitoring and testing facilities.

Bagging a GI tag ensures that farmers can directly reach their consumers and vice versa. In short, middlemen and all intervening channels are eliminated. After getting the GI, the central government has allowed Hapus producers in five districts – Raigad, Ratnagiri, Sindhudurg, Palghar and Thane -- to use a GI tag and an Incredible India sticker. Consumers know the region of origin if these stickers are affixed on the box of mangoes. “Though we’ve got the GI tag, it wasn’t being used as it should be. We have now started using a QR code,” said Vidyadhar Joshi, 52, a progressive mango farmer from Devgad.

Joshi, who owns more than five acres of mango orchards, said scanning the QR code enables the customer to know the farm from where they are buying the mangoes. Aware that there could be a possibility of adulteration when it reaches the retail market, and thereby losing out on customers since the non-GI Hapus mangoes will taste different, Joshi is toying with the idea of fixing QR code stickers on every mango.

Seated in his clinic at Malgund, near Ganpatipule in Ratnagiri district, Dr Vivek Bhide, president, Konkan Hapus Mango Growers and Sellers Cooperative Society Limited (KHMGSCSL), Ratnagiri, who spearheaded the process, said, “The intervening decade involved numerous legal procedures. No government subsidy was taken to obtain GI.”

The 55-year-old, who owns mango orchards with 1500 trees in Ratnagiri takes prides in the fact that GI for Hapus was granted not just based on the region where these mangoes are grown. “Hapus was given the GI tag for the quality of the fruit as well. This is unlike other products in Maharashtra such as Solapur Chaddar or Nagpur Santra that have been given GI tag solely based on the name of the terrain,” said Bhide.

In addition to KHMGSCSL, Dr Balasaheb Sawant Konkan Agricultural University (BSKAU), Dapoli, Devgad Taluka Mango Growers Cooperative Societies Limited (DTMGCSL), Jamsande in Sindhudurg district, and Kelshi Area Mango Growers Cooperative Union Limited (KAMGCUL), Dapoli, came together to earn the GI tag for Hapus. Today, these four institutions are custodians of the tag.

“The GI tag was taken for Hapus in the agricultural category. But a number of products such as juice, pickle, amras, barfi and wine are also manufactured using Hapus,” said Ajeet Gogate, president, DTMGCSL, from his Jamsande office. “Many well-known companies use the name for their mango products without registering with one of the four GI tag custodians.”

Gogate has observed another form of adulteration. He said, “Pulp and juices are extracted from low-quality mangoes and sold as Alphonso mango products. This practice not only deceives the consumers but also poses a health risk as the by-products may contain harmful chemicals and pesticides.”

The law mandates that farmers and food processing companies register with one of the four organisations to not only sell or buy the fruit but also be able to manufacture a mango product under the name of Hapus or Alphonso. “But due to lack of awareness on GI, it is widely and very easily misused,” said Gogate. “To curb such sale of goods or food products, a complaint can be lodged with the police or a case can be filed in the courts.”

Dr Bhide called for a re-think and pooling in a collective effort to garner benefits of GI. He said, “The government and allied agriculture institutions need to work together to get results of this initiative.”

Right now, the Agricultural and Processed Food Products Export Development Authority (APEDA), Marketing Department, Department of Agriculture, Department of Horticulture and agricultural universities are working in silos. “To tackle the issue, the government and other stakeholders need to take corrective and effective measures. This includes strict enforcement of quality standards, establishment of better monitoring and testing facilities, and public awareness campaigns to educate consumers about the risks of consuming adulterated Alphonso mangoes,” said Dr Bhide.

Gogate called for an authorised committee comprising representatives of each of the four GI tag custodians, local police, representative of APEDA, agricultural university and agricultural department. “Only if this happens, will all benefits reach farmers,” he said.

Sources from the local agriculture office said, “The department of Agriculture along with Ministry of Horticulture is trying to channel the effective implications of GI tag with awareness camps. We are also planning to give some time to farmers and manufacturers to register with the custodians. We will then think about the future course of action.”

With the youth migrating to cities, villagers are facing a major labour crunch. Konkan farmers are hiring labour from Nepal for six months, which adds to the cost of produce. “Nepali labourers are paid up to 600 per day for accommodation and transportation. We invite them here every year as they work full-time,” said Vidyadhar Pusalkar, 50, a farmer from Malgund, Ratnagiri, who owns more than six acres of mango trees. The new recruits find it hard to climb the tall trees. Hence, Pusalkar, and other farmers like him, have undertaken a five-year programme to reduce the height of the trees from 30-35 feet to seven to eight feet. “Due to reduced tree height, spraying fertilizers and harvesting mangoes from the ground is easier. This saves both time and money,” said Pusalkar.

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