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ITC to focus on tribals for sourcing mangoes

By Prashanth Chintala
April 28, 2010 13:42 IST
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Multi-business conglomerate ITC Limited has embarked upon an initiative aimed at ensuring remunerative prices to tribals and at the same time sourcing organically produced mangoes for its discerning customers spread across various countries, particularly in Europe and the US.

ITC's Agri Business Divisionhas identified tribals in south Gujarat who own 1 to 3 mango trees each and roped in non-governmental organisations Vasundhara and Bharatiya Agro Industries Foundation for the promotion of tree-based farming.

The NGOs are entrusted with the job of collecting and aggregating the produce while ITC purchases the mangoes by paying the market price to tribals. Thus, it procured 300-400 tonnes of mangoes last year from about 1,500 tribals, which were processed and exported in the form of pulp to Europe where baby food manufacturers want only organically produced mango products.

Now, ITC wants to replicate this experiment elsewhere in the country and has already started a similar project in Srikakulam district of Andhra Pradesh. Here, the company has tied up with the Integrated Tribal Development Agency for the purpose.

According to ITC-ABD chief executive S ShivKumar, the company's approach towards processed food, particularly mangoes, is customer-centric and focused on safety aspects.

He told Business Standard that quality specifications for mango products varied across geographies. For instance, European customers want 'high brix' mango pulp that has higher sugar content. To make this variety, the fruit has to be ripened more than the normal level. Similarly, the demand for blended products is also increasing. Hence, ITC is concentrating on delivering products tailored for specific customers, including taste, texture and sweetness.

At the same time, the focus is on safety aspects, ShivKumar said, adding this involved even tracing a product back to the orchard of its production.

In view of the above aspects, he said, there was a need for closure engagement with farmers. So, besides starting the tribal initiative, ITC has embarked upon a cluster approach.

Under this, a group of farmers, who own mango orchards, functions under ITC's umbrella. The company personnel monitor their farms regularly. Apart from introducing productivity-enhancing techniques and varieties, these personnel ensure that the fruits, though not organically produced, are free of pesticide residues.

ITC-ABD vice president -exports, Ninad Bhosle, said each cluster had about 200 farmers. The company had 7-8 clusters spread across the mango producing belt of Gujarat, Maharashtra, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh.

Given that ITC processed 45,000 tonnes of mangoes and exported 22,000 tonnes of pulp last year, what it is procuring from the tribals today is minuscule. But with the company intending to replicate the project in other parts of the country, the contribution of the tribal produce is expected to increase progressively in the coming years.

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Prashanth Chintala
Source: source

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