Mumbai’s mango lovers recently woke up to startling news. Alphonso mangoes, which the city obsesses about every summer, were now being sold well after their monsoon cut-off date. Even more startling was that they weren’t from the Konkan coast, but from Malawi in southern Africa, more than 5,600 km away.
While traditional Alphonso growers in Ratnagiri and Devgad have been obsessing about the impact of climate change and increased industrial development on their much-prized fruit, growers in other places have been quietly moving in on their market. It started in Tamil Nadu where some canny farmers reckoned that their local climate, driven by the year-end northeast monsoon rather than the Konkan’s mid-year southwest monsoon could allow them to grow Alphonsos at a different time of the year.
These so-called Salem Alphonsos have been available at Mumbai’s Crawford Market for some time now, without making much impact. Fanatical Alphonso lovers would sneer at the unseasonal fruit and might do the same for these Malawi mangoes, which are priced at around Rs 2,000 for a dozen large ones. Yet enough demand evidently exists, from unwary foreigners or NRIs desperate for any mangoes, to sustain Salem Alphonsos.
Now the Malawi mangoes could add their imported origins for extra appeal. Apart from tourists, they are likely to feature in the other big outlet for expensive produce – the fruit baskets that have always been a big part of gifting traditions.