Cash Crunch Turns Orange Trade Sour


The orange growers of Nagpur have now  joined the fellowship of pain of their peers in the cotton farming community.  Demonetization has dented the orange trade in Vidarbha. The orange exporters who export to Bangladesh   have suffered the most as the fruit prices have fallen by up to 50%. “Prices have crashed by 50% and the time to harvest the fruits is getting over. We fear that the situation can lead to increase in suicides of farmers,” was written in a memorandum that was given to the government from the orange farmers of Vidarbha.

The last year was painful for farmers and they were forced to sell the fruit  at throwaway prices of R5-12 per kg.  this time although the rates are good,  but there is no cash flow in the market, he said. Around 90% of transactions in the orange trade are done in cash, Thakre pointed out.

.Exports starts peaking during December and this time the domestic rates are good which is why the farmers may prefer selling in the domestic market, Thakre said. Last year this time rates were around R10,000 to R15,000 per tonne, and now farmers are getting R25000 to R30,000 per tonne..

Maharashtra is the country’s largest producer and exporter of oranges, contributing 50% to the country’s total production. The kinoor variety from Rajasthan, is the main competitor and accounts for 20 per cent of the total production in the country.

Of the country’s total area under orange cultivation at around 2 lakh hectare, Maharashtra has   about 1.21 lakh hectares and the states’ total production averages 10 lakh tonnes annually, through two seasons — Ambia and Mruga.  .    The orange is mostly  cultivated in Amravati, Nagpur, Akola, Wardha and Yavatmal districts, Amravati district alone has 56747 ha area under orange  cultivation and accounts for 45% of mandarin area of the state..

Other places where the fruit is grown are the northeast, Punjab, Himachal Pradesh and Rajasthan. However, oranges from Nagpur are considered top notch and the best in the country.

Of the total orange production from Maharashtra, about 35% is exported to Bangladesh, while Kerala and Delhi are the other main markets for the fruit xports to Bangladesh usually happen via road and some 100 tonnes to 200 tonnes are transported to Bangladesh through Kolkata on a daily basis. Last year, for the first time in many years, around 52 tonnes of oranges from Maharashtra were exported to Sri Lanka through the sea route.

The economic condition of orange growers in this region is not very encouraging. But they are certainly better off than the cotton grower who is often pushed to suicide. But the orange farmer is also not spared by the vagaries of nature and uncertain markets.   

“This season will last another one month   .We have weathered the worst brunt of demonetization and we should be able to push through to the end,” says Abdul Waheed, a wholesale fruit merchant n Nagpur. Waheed belongs to the family of original fruit merchants tracing the lineage to Subhan Seth and Shakoor Seth who ruled the trade in the fifties. The orange crop grows twice a year. The fruit available from September to December is Ambiya which has a slightly sour taste. It is followed by the sweeter Mrig crop from January to March.

The signature Nagpur Santra has an interesting history. It  was fertilized more than a century and a half back     by grafting a wild orange variety from Assam with sakhar limbu (sweet  lemon, Citrus Lamiata), a local sweet citrus variety .Brought here by the Bhonsalas — the erstwhile rulers of the region  , oranges made Nagpur famous. It is a variety that is exclusively grown in Nagpur and has a pockmarked exterior. The oranges are famous for their sweet and juicy pulp and were given the Geographical Indication (GI) tag in 2014.

The GI tag 385 identifies Nagpur orange as being one which has   ‘a specific geographical origin and possess qualities or a reputation that are due to that origin’. The GIs are part of WTO Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS)   to which India is also a signatory. With a GI, Nagpur orange joined other notable national and international products: Darjeeling Tea, Nasik Grapes, Welsh lamb, Scotch beef, Champagne, Roquefort cheese, to name a few.

Nagpur mandarin, although considered a good variety, was not considered viable for the food processing industry due to bitterness caused by the seeds, The current season also marks the arrival of the seedless variety of the oranges .Named NRCC Nagpur mandarin seedless-4; it was developed by selecting a plant from the orange (Nagpur mandarin) crop that had, by genetic mutation, seedless fruits. While a normal orange has an average of 12.68 seeds, the new variety has only 2.57 seeds per fruit. The seedless variety has bigger fruit, high yield (679 fruits/plant). The ordinary mandarin variety with seeds yields 520 fruits per year per plant.

Orange traders are mow becoming savvy and using professional marketing practices. They now want to  hook consumers from the first orange they buy. Growers had noticed that, after an uptick in sales at the start of each season, when shoppers embraced the fresh harvest, orders   would drop off.

After extensive research on consumers’ taste preferences and fruit-buying habits, Orange growers found that those first oranges sold each year were often bland, because they had spent less time ripening on the tree. Dissatisfied consumers often waited weeks before trying another orange, while those that tried a sweet piece of fruit kept coming back for more

The commercialization of orange crop has been impeded by several factors .One of it is the   absence of freezing and processing centres and the demand for setting up a major processing centre in Vidarbha is an old one.  The first organized attempt was made in the 1960s when farmers came together to form the Nagpur Orange Growers’ Association (NOGA) with its plant at Motibagh in north Nagpur. NOGA ran into losses and the government took over it in 1972, bringing it under the Maharashtra Agro-Based Industries Development Corporation (MAIDC).

The story of the Nagpur orange now  doesn’t have the fabled   tang  with which the earlier generation has grown   with  .Nagpur still retains the appellation   “Orange City” but the scene today is nowhere near the mystical description that  the  famous Englishman   Major Henry Bevan  made following his visit to Nagpur in 1818.

“Greatest ornament of the garden is a description of orange tree called Cintra (santra) or Coolang. Its fruit is very juicy and of exquisite flavour. There is a floating notion that it was introduced by the Portuguese. Some however, believe that the great superiority of the orange is owing to a system of grafting and budding in which local gardeners of Nagpore are pre-eminently skilful,”

Moin Qazi is the author of the bestselling book, Village Diary of a Heretic Banker .He has worked in the development finance sector for almost four decades .He can be reached at [email protected]


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