It's the season of the year for Alphonso mangoes, those delicious, juicy, fragrant (and expensive) fruits from India. Here in London they bring them in by the plane load, with stacks of them appearing every morning, fresh from the fields (a shame about the high carbon footprint).
But all is not well: this year's harvest in India will be 50% lower than last year. That translates into a huge loss in fruit and trade for the farmers.The problem is the changing weather conditions. The Alphonsos are a bit like French wine, they need a very special mix of weather and the right kind of soil to produce the delectable fruit. This year winter was unusually cold and it lasted a long time. Much lower temperatures during the night, in contrast to the day, killed the baby mangoes which are not used to such conditions.
A cyclone in December and an early heatwave did not help matters. This dried out the moisture in the fruit stems causing the fruits to drop from the trees.
According to the New Straits Times, insects such as red mites, caterpillars and fungus have newly appeared to eat the fruits. These bugs seem to have thrived on the changing weather. In response, farmers have started to use chemical fertilizers, which is adding to the problems.
Alphonsos only yield every other year. Last year was not a good year either, so farmers were hoping for a better season in 2012.
The Alphonso is known as the "king of the fruits" and is much desired both in India and abroad. As a result of the scarcity, prices have risen dramatically. In India they now cost 67% more than last year. According to the Times they are $160 for a box of 12 in the USA (is this really true, American mango lovers?). Here in London, they are $17.80 for a dozen.
There are different seasons for the mangoes. After Alphonso comes Kesar (the queen). They are smaller and have a sharper taste. According to the India Express, this crop is in trouble too. The bad weather delayed the ripening of the fruit and thus its supply to the market. The estimates are that there will be almost 50 to 60 per cent less than the last year.