Goodness of native mangoes

Goodness of native mangoes

sweet and sour Wild mangoes that once dominated the forests of the Malnad and coastal regions are fast disappearing. Mohan Talakalkoppa discusses various efforts that strive to conserve these mouth-watering treats of nature

Edde kukku, meaning good mango in Tulu language, is well known for its quality and versatility. This native variety can be consumed at four levels of maturity - tender, raw, unripe and ripe. Another interesting feature of the fruit is its long shelf-life, forging a general feeling that it doesn’t get rotten. Unique flavour of Balanja jeerige, another wild mango variety, makes it suitable for pickles. One more variety, Gundappe, is associated with good sleep. Every seed-propagated native variety produces distinct fruits, with features varying from tree to tree.

A native or wild mango tree can yield several tonnes of fruits. The fruits are pest- resistant and healthy, whereas the trees are valued for timber. While some varieties are known for their taste and aroma, some others are noted for their shape and size.

Natural heritage
Each village in the Malnad and coastal regions relishes distinct mango varieties grown in the wild and along the river. Ripe mangoes are eaten raw as well as used in ethnic preparations, unripe ones are preserved in brine for use through the year, and tender mangoes are pickled. Appemidi is a special category of native mangoes that dominates the pickle industry. These varieties, used at the tender stage, are grown along the rivers in Uttara Kannada and Shivamogga districts. In fact, there are hundreds of appemidi varieties in the Western Ghats that are preferred for their inimitable aroma, exceptional taste and keeping quality. Some special varieties include Anathabhattana appe, Adderi jeerige, Malanji appe, Karnakundala, and Kanchappe.

However, in recent years, this extraordinary varietal diversity is fast dwindling due to massive deforestation, negligence of these varieties in favour of hybrid mangoes, unscrupulous harvesting and axing of old trees for timber. While the varieties are fast disappearing, there is also an erosion of traditional knowledge in terms of their propagation and recipes. 

Fortunately, those who relish these sweet and sour fruits have plunged into action. Growers, fruit enthusiasts and organisations have come together to conserve and promote this unrivalled diversity. Mapalthota Subraya Bhat, a resident of Markanja village near Sullia has a collection of more than 100 rare varieties. Another farmer Hegde Subba Rao in Belur village of Sagar taluk has identified 120 varieties in Sagar and Soraba taluks. An authority over aromatic mango varieties, he has grafted and conserved about 80 varieties. His wife Bhagirathi Hegde has evaluated these varieties for their pickling qualities. Likewise, many enthusiasts of the state have put in their efforts to conserve this natural heritage. 

College of Forestry, Sirsi has worked extensively with farmers to conserve aromatic mango varieties. Prof Vasudeva, who co-ordinated a project titled “Tropical Fruit Trees” under the United Nations Environment Programme says that they have documented 103 aromatic mango varieties of Uttara Kannada district and established a clonal bank(a living collection of selected clones). Grafts of best 40 varieties have been distributed to farmers. The project linked graft experts and encouraged self-help groups to take up value addition. It facilitated the creation of seven farmer diversity parks in Uttara Kannada district, where varieties of native species like appemidi, kokum (Garcinia indica), uppage (Garcinia gummi-gutta) and jackfruit are conserved.

The Indian Institute of Horticultural Research (IIHR), Hesaraghatta, Bengaluru has conserved more than 400 mango varieties collected from all over the country. Dr M R Dinesh, Head of the Division of Fruit Crops says “It is essential to document, conserve and improve wild mango varieties lest we lose the precious gene pool.” Dr K V Ravishankar, another scientist working in the Biotechnology division of IIHR opines that DNA bar coding of varieties is essential to avoid confusion in naming, theft and misuse of the plant material. Centre for Environment Education (CEE), Pune has documented more than 200 mango varieties in the Western Ghats range of Maharashtra.

Simultaneously, wild mango plantations are increasing in number in the state. Dattatreya Hegde of Sirsi, who owns a 15-year-old orchard of 125 trees is one of the pioneering farmers to consider wild mango as a crop. He feels that a two-acre plantation is suffice to earn a good livelihood. Ganesh Kakal who runs a pickle industry, has five acres of wild mangoes. Many farmers in Sirsi, Sagar and Yellapur taluks have taken up wild mango cultivation in recent years. Households are also exploring the potential of the crop by means of value addition.

Celebrating diversity
Mango diversity festivals organised in various parts of the state have brought similar efforts under one platform, giving them a boost. Appemidi festival held in Sagar in 2007 showcased more than five hundred varieties. The programme revealed the utility value of the crop, triggering interest among farmers. Though awareness programmes and farmer meets are organised in Uttara Kannada and Shivamogga districts since last one decade, they gained momentum in the coastal region only in the last couple of years. One such gathering was organised in Kepu village of Bantwal taluk in 2012 where people tasted various traditional mango recipes and selected best varieties that could be multiplied through grafting. So far, grafted wild mango varieties have given good results. “Kadu Mavina Meluku”, another fair held in Muliya village of Dakshina Kannada recently, helped to gain a comprehensive understanding of the various possibilities of the fruit. Exhibition-cum-sale of local mango varieties, value-added products, grafted plants, recipe books and tools required in mango cultivation was organised.

Participants savoured mango delicacies even as they interacted with experts and enthusiasts. A book of 59 authentic wild mango recipes was also released on the occasion. Organisers of the meet feel that proper documentation and promotion has led to the conservation and utilisation of appemidi. Likewise, a systematic effort to pool the information of coastal diversity would be useful as there many untapped varieties in the region that have a great potential.

There has been a renewed interest among people of these regions in the local biodiversity which essentially includes wild mango, jackfruit, kokum and uppage. Efforts of conservation, value addition and utilisation have helped them to keep the passion for these native varieties alive. 

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