'Appemidi' in need of resurrection

Appemidi                being gathered in a sack.  DH PHOTO/sandya hegde almaneIt is the sweet-sour and pungent tasting tender mangoes that are sought after, whose overpowering smell and taste in the pickled form are a perfect accompaniment with a meal.  In spite of the growing popularity of the midi mango pickle, the wild trees that bear the tangy fruit are still in need of attention and conservation.

Tender mangoes or appemidi as they are known in Karnataka are undisputedly the heart and soul of the distinctive mango pickle made in the State.  Midi mango pickles have the exceptional quality of retaining their effervescent taste even after two to three years and without the use of any artificial preservatives. And just like each maker’s hands provide a unique taste to the pickle;  midi mangoes carry a unique taste and quality exclusive to their place of origin and their mother tree.

The mango trees that  bear appemidi are mostly grown in forests and along the rivers. Locals say that of all the wild mangoes, only about 20 per cent can be categorised as the best appemidi varieties. Fruits from these trees naturally fetch high prices bringing their owners anywhere between Rs 40,000 and Rs 70,000 per tree.

Some areas in Karnataka where distinct local varieties are grown are Khanapur and Chittoor areas of Belgaum district, river valleys of Aghanashini, Kali, Bedthi, Sharavathi and Varada of Uttara Kannada district and Sagar and Ripponpet of Shimoga district and parts of Chikmagalur district. It is these local varieties that help in maintaining the  biodiversity of the mango species.

In the last few years, the demand for appemidi pickles has risen prolifically. Pickle making is a huge household sector industry with more than 700 species of unripe mangoes utilised to make this Indian meal accompaniment. The demand for pickles is anywhere between 4,000 and 5,000 tons a year and Karnataka alone generates revenue of almost Rs 14 crore from the tender mango market. While normal tender mangoes sell for Rs one per piece, higher quality mangoes fetch as high as Rs two per piece price.

Unfortunately, the appemidi market is failing to gain profits from the rising demand. While lack of organisational and marketing prowess among farmers is a problem, the more important issue is to maintain the biodiversity of the region and conserve the individual wild varieties.

Conservationists believe more than one  lakh of pickle mango trees have been lost in the last six decades due to unlimited felling of trees. Industrialisation and hydro-electric projects have devastated the sensitive ecosystem of the area. What has been an added blow is the unscrupulous method of branch harvesting adopted by many naïve farmers.

To pluck a midi mango from the tree needs hours of patience and proficiency and many farmers have resorted to felling off entire branches causing damage to the tree and reducing its yield for the future.

Luckily, there are conservationists like Shivanand Kalave who are working towards the resurrection of appemidi species. An authority on the biodiversity of Western Ghats, Kalave has spent years studying the area and educating the farmers at the grass-root level.

Kalave feels that though the Western Ghats region is home to thousands of wild mango varieties, they are still neglected. Conservation is necessary not just for the plants, but also for ethnic recipes, methods of pickle making, and other cooking methods like household preparations of appe saaru, gojju, sasve, chutney, etc.

Recently, the Department of Environment Sciences (DES) at Bangalore University too has lent its support to farmers by collecting saplings and protecting them in the University grounds. The task of collecting these wild species has been painstakingly done by Kalave and A N Yellappa Reddy, who had initiated the programme to protect the species and develop better-yielding crops. With over 102 varieties of wild species, the Department hopes it will become a mini gene pool. The battle to save the appemidi is an ongoing one and it can only gather storm by collective efforts of farmers, conservationists, researchers and buyers. Undoubtedly, with every tree saved, Karnataka gets a step closer to ecological and economical prosperity.

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