Bittersweet taste

The air in Kerala’s Muthalamada village is sweet and fragrant with mangoes but a GI tag can sweeten the aftertaste, writes Arjun Raghunath

Care is taken while plucking the mangoes. PHOTOS BY AUTHOR

Mangoes are not just fruits or money-minters, but they are like their progeny for the hundreds of farmers of Muthalamada, a remote village in Kerala. They take care of each mango with extreme care, right from the stage of rearing to harvesting.

While ‘Muthalamada’ means a den of crocodiles in Malayalam, it is now synonymous with mangoes even in the international markets. If fresh mangoes are available in any part of India, or even Asia, during the months of December and January, it should be from this village, situated about 25 km from Palakkad town in central Kerala, as it is in this place that the mango season begins first, owing to its climatic conditions.

Muthalamada, which is hardly a few kilometres away from Tamil Nadu, is home to over 10,000 acres of mango plantations cultivating over 35 varieties of mangoes, including the most sought after ones like banganapally, alphonso, sindhooram, imam pasand, malgova and totapuri. In fact, one can smell the sweet aroma of mangoes wafting in the breeze of Muthalamada, one of the largest panchayats in Kerala.

 

Traditional methods

Apart from being the prime entrant to the market, Muthalamada mangoes also boast of being nurtured by the 5,000-odd farmers in the traditional methods of farming where pesticides are used sparingly while no chemicals are used to enhance the yield. 

“There is even a particular way in which we pluck the mangoes. We ensure that the mangoes are not damaged while being plucked. For this reason, the workers in the mango farms of Muthalamada are in great demand in the mango plantations in other places,” says M Thajudeen, a Muthalamada-based farmer and exporter.

A box of Muthalamada mangoes, weighing seven kg, can fetch up to Rs 4,000 during the peak season. Even traders from places like Mumbai and Delhi come down to purchase these mangoes in bulk during the months of December and January.

According to Muthalamda agriculture officer T T Arun, the annual flowering of mango trees happens first at Muthalamada in November owing to the night temperature in the place that’s ideal for it.

By December and January, the harvesting season begins, unlike in other parts of the country where the harvesting season is in February-March, accounting for its high demand in December and January.

Almost every household in Muthalamada has at least five to 10 mango trees.

 

The annual mango production of Muthalamada is over one lakh ton. A number of packing units have also come up in the region.

According to an estimate, these mango farms have generated about 50,000 direct jobs, and an almost similar number of indirect jobs.

About 70 farmers are also exporting the mangoes to foreign countries including Europe.

The village is believed to have got the name Muthalamada as it indeed had a den of crocodiles during the time of princely rulers. According to Iqbal, a native of the village, the erstwhile rulers of the region used to punish those committing grave crimes by putting them in a den of crocodiles here, hence the name Muthalamada, it is believed. The people of Muthalamada were originally paddy and coconut cultivators but switched over to mango farming only in the past three to four decades.

It all began...

According to local MLA K Babu, this shift happened owing to water scarcity in the region.

“Some farmers started mango cultivation as the water required is considerably less. As it turned out to be lucrative, the other farmers too started cultivating mangoes,” he says.

According to Arun, the number of mango farms in Muthalamada has increased manifold over the last 10-15 years with people from the other parts of the state as well as neighbouring states buying land for farming or on a long-term lease.

Now, mango farms are not just limited to Muthalamada, but to the neighbouring districts of Kerala and Tamil Nadu, too.

Massive commercial farms coming up near Muthalamada, with hybrid and ultra hybrid varieties of mango trees that give a much higher yield than the traditional ones, have become a cause for concern for the mango growers of Muthalamada. The state-of-the-art technology used by the new players, and the infrastructure they possess which includes transportation, is adding to their woes.According to Thajudeen, Muthalamada farmers have been pressing for the Geographical Indication tag for their mangoes for quite some time now. Adequate support from the government is also required, he says.

Not so sweet concerns

According to Mohan Kumar, a mango farmer of Muthalamada, the most pressing need of the hour is agri-clinics that offer quick solutions to issues like pests. “Over the last two years, many of us have suffered a huge crop loss owing to a particular type of insect for which there is no effective solution as yet,” he says.

A major problem faced by Muthalamada farmers is the lack of transportation and storage facilities. “Considering the huge potential, the government should provide transportation infrastructure, including the allocation of a railway bogie for speedy transportation of mangoes during the harvest season,” says Thajudeen.

The government has recently sanctioned Rs 2.6 crore worth projects for Muthalamada mango farmers under the Horticulture Mission, of which, installation of pump sets and drip irrigation projects are the major components. Steps are also taken to set up a mango hub that includes mango processing plants and storage facilities.“We want to set up units for the production of value-added products like mango pulp, jam and juice and market them under the Muthalamada banner,” says Babu, while Arun adds that the totapuri variety of mango grown in Muthalamada would be ideal for the same.

The farmers are pinning their hopes on these government initiatives. They are also happy that the government is finally realising the potential of Muthalamada mangoes.

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