Where the wild mangoes are

A.J. VINAYAK | Updated on: May 17, 2012








With unique flavours all their own, wild mangoes are a fast-disappearing treat. Farmers in Karnataka are exploring ways to conserve this natural heritage.

When the techie son of a farmer in Dakshina Kannada district called from the US, where he was posted on an assignment, his mother was relieved to hear he was comfortably settled there. You can get anything here if you have the money for it, Raghunath joked.

But he was quickly forced to eat his words. On learning that his father was busy plucking wild mangoes at their farm, the son immediately rued, “I will not get them here, even if I pay in dollars.”

His father, arecanut grower Manchi Srinivas Achar, recounted this conversation to a group of likeminded farmers who gathered recently at Ubaru village, in Bantwal, to discuss ways of conserving wild mango varieties.

For those who have grown up in the rural areas of coastal Karnataka, kaatu maavu or kaadu maavu (wild mangoes) are an incomparable treat.

Childhood is even today associated with vivid memories of pelting stones at wild mango trees during the summer holidays, or sneaking into neighbouring farms to steal away a mango or two.

Today, such memories are in danger of remaining just that, thanks to rapidly decreasing sources of wild mango varieties.

Local specialities

Surrounded by arecanut plantations, and jackfruit and mango trees, Rajagopal Bhat's house was the venue for the farmers' meet. The verandah turned into a makeshift meeting place with experts.

Shree Padre, an expert in rainwater harvesting and Editor of Adike Patrike (a farm journal), says each geographical area has its unique wild varieties. Tender wild mangoes are often used to make pickles. The appe midi , a sought-after variety, is limited to some areas of Sagar in Shimoga district.

The fruits are eaten raw as well as cooked in a range of dishes in coastal Karnataka.

Vanishing delicacies

Rapid urbanisation, neglect of wild varieties in favour of hybrids, timber value of old trees, and shortage of farm labour to pluck the fruits are some of the reasons why wild mangoes are disappearing from our fruit basket.

Dr Ashwini Krishnamurthy, trustee of Varanasi Research Foundation (an agriculture research organisation), cites the example of the Bolwar kukku (mango in the local Tulu language) famous in Puttur town. Rich in pulp and with a thin seed, this variety is under threat of extinction, as the area where it grows is now earmarked for road widening.

‘Mundappa' is another local variety that many people in Dakshina Kannada district would readily recall. Ayurveda specialist Dr K.S. Kamath, from Manchi village, says this variety originally came from the compound of a house on Dongarakery-New Chitra Theatre Road in Mangalore.

A red variant of this mango used to grow on three trees in the heart of the city until a few years ago. None of them can be found today as a posh shopping mall stands on that land.

Ironically, the hypermarkets at that mall stock a range of hybrid mangoes, but the local red mundappa can no longer be had for love or money.

Oswald Fernandes, a farmer from Rayi village in Bantwal taluk, recollects that a wild mango tree was felled at their farm a decade ago. In fact, a large country boat was crafted from its trunk.

He now repents that neither he nor the younger generation can savour the sweet-sour fruits any more.

As a child, he remembers the fruits selling at Rs 20 for 100. “Had I retained that tree, today I would earn Rs 200 for 100 fruits,” he says. According to Achar, the price of wild mangoes depends on the time of their arrival and the demand for them. Tender mangoes for pickle arrive during December-January. At times the tender mangoes can cost Re 1 each. During peak season, a wild mango costs around 50 paise, he adds.

Labour shortage

And where the wild varieties continue to grow even today, the difficulty is in finding people to pluck them, says Muliya Venkatakrishna Sharma, one of the organisers of the meet at Ubaru.

This problem is acutely felt by a pickle manufacturer in the region. Saravu Ganapati Bhat, from Vittal, says harvest of tender mangoes is limited to 8-10 days in a year. It is difficult to find people for the job during that crucial period, he says.

Plucking typically starts at 8 a.m. and is usually completed by afternoon. A bigger tree may take longer, up to 4 p.m.

Bhat pays each worker around Rs 1,000 for a day's work.

Conserving nature's gift

The meet was organised mainly to identify good varieties of wild mangoes and find ways to propagate them, says Sharma.

Nearly 45-50 farmers from the surrounding villages brought around 130 varieties to the meet. Of these, six varieties were identified as ideal for pickle-making based on criterion such as colour, aroma, taste and crispiness, and six others were picked as ideal fruits based on the quality of the flesh.

Sharma suggests that farmers with large holdings should focus on cultivating wild mango varieties.

Some trees require nearly a quarter acre when they are fully grown. This makes it inadvisable for farmers with small holdings, he says.

The meet also focused on developing wild varieties through grafting. Farm experts taught participants the techniques involved in the grafting.

The Mapalathota Subraya Bhat plantation in Sullia taluk is a labour of love for Bhat. He grows 150 varieties of mango, many of them wild.

Bhat has travelled to nearly every nook and corner of the mango-growing-areas in coastal Karnataka and Sagar to collect many of these varieties.

Urging people to look beyond mere profit, Sharma says we owe it to future generations to conserve and pass on these precious gifts of nature.

Else they will prove elusive not just to Raghunath and his dollars, but entire humankind.

Published on May 17, 2012
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