Responding to a rising interest in heritage varieties, farmers work on preserving and marketing indigenous mangoes known for their distinctive taste, texture and colour
At his 35-acre farm in Bodi, Tamil NaduJayanth Kaliappan fiercely protects eight local varieties of mango. “We have 1,200 mango trees, of which 22 are native varieties. Of them, eight are rare and unique to this region,” says Jayanth.
His organic farm, set in Theni district, follows the legacy of his father A Kaliappan, who made it his mission to save native rare mangoes from extinction.
At his farm, Jayanth harvests thennampaalai, which tastes like coconut; and muttakose, shaped like a cabbage. The farm also protects its brightly-flavoured singivaada; big, fibrous javadu; and sweet, pulpy thadaga kaai. Finally, there is the rosemary, tinted pink near the stem, and adamaga, used for pickling, which weighs between 1.5 and 2 kilograms.
“We are creating saplings from the mother tree of these varieties so that future generations will also benefit from the nutritional value of these mangoes,” says Jayanth.
Umaramanan Umapathi of Auro Orchards, set in Auroville, near Puducherry explains how many of Tamil Nadu’s native mangoes began to disappear over the last three decades as farmers preferred to grow just five or seven popular varieties for the domestic and export market. “Now, people are bored of eating the same varieties year after year and are showing interest in local mangoes or nattu kaai. This year, our customers pre-booked native mangoes even before we began harvesting,” says Umaramanan.
Now documenting native mangoes in Villupuram and Kanchipuram, Umaramanan travels though these districts in search of rare mangoes, and educates farmers on the importance of biodiversity and seed conservation.
At the 44-acre Auro Orchard, he grows iruttu, rettikola, kadhar, malliga, pether, neer malgova, K-white and amarapalli. He also has “Natty,” as the local farm workers call it, which are unrecognised native varieties (perilladha mambazhangal) , and ratna, which is a hybrid of the neelam and popular alphonso. There is the fleshy rettikola, three times bigger than the rumani; the kadhar is medium-sized and very sweet; pulpy malliga with huge flat fruit and firm iruttu, weighing about 250 grams each.
“So far I have seen iruttu only on our farm. We have a single tree, so we are now creating more saplings from this mother tree. The fruit has a thick, dark green skin like kalapadi, orange flesh and a unique sweetness, ” he says.
Umaramanan sells the harvest at Saragam, a retail outlet in Auroville, as well as at organic stores in Chennai, Organic Farmers Market and reStore. “I deliberately keep the price of native mangoes on a par or higher than the popular ones, as I don’t want people to judge the fruit based on its price,” he says, adding that rettikola, pether and malliga sell the fastest.
Bindu B, assistant professor (Horticulture) at the Kerala Agricultural University, has been studying the varieties in South Kerala, finding ways to conserve them. “My focus is on native mangoes that are high yielding and resilient. Mangoes are highly susceptible to climate change but native mangoes flower abundantly even during drought,” she says, adding that hence more farmers are showing interest in reviving heirloom saplings.
Traditional mangoes of Kerala are many. In fact, over 200 have been identified in Kannapuram panchayat alone. Declared an Indigenous Mango Heritage Area last year, the panchayat is home to 10 families that have been iworking on documenting and categorising the 500 mango varieties found in the state. So far they have completed 203 varieties and grafted over 100, to help propagate the species. Bindu adds that native mangoes are often named based on their shape, colour and taste.
For example, in Malayalam, thathachundan means parrot beak; moovandan means three years (this variety yields fruit in the third year of planting and vellari means cucumber.
Nattu mangoes of Tamil Nadu
- Panchavarnam: medium size, high sweetness
- Puliyadi or Mohandas: small size, sweet and tasty
- Karuppattii Kaai: medium size, flesh tastes like palm jaggery
- Pottalmaa: Huge size, high nutrition and tasty
- Thennampalai: Tiny size, fibrous and sweet
- Thengavalli: medium size, non fibrous, tastes like coconut
- Muttacose: Fibreless, big size, sweet
- Rosemary: Fibre rich, sweet and big size
- Singevada: Pungent smell, elongated shape and broad big size
- Thadagakkai: medium size, high sweetness, peel would be yellow from beginning
- Ada mangai: extreme sour, huge size, used for pickling only
- Javvadu: Huge fruit, pulpy and medium sweetness
- Iruttu: medium size, thick skin, orange colour flesh
- Rettikola: medium round shape, high on sweetness, low acidity
- Kadhar: medium size and high sweetness
- Malliga: huge size, unique sweet taste and texture
- Pether: flat, elongated, pulpy and medium sweetness
- Neer Malgova: same as Malgova, but bigger and watery pulp.
- Amarapali: mediumsize, elongated shape and sweet. Similar to Rasalu variety
- K-White: Ash colour skin, round shaped, fleshy and sweet.
- Kalapadi, small size, high sweetness
Rajapalayam-based mango farmer and researcher KS Jaganatha Raja has been propagating and conserving rare and native trees for 25 years. He says we have already lost many precious mango varieties, unique to the region. “As a custodian of native mangoes, I have saved from extinction certain varieties such as mohandas, pottalma, panchavarnam and karupatti kai, which tastes like jaggery. By combining mohandas and swarnareka, I developed a variety which I named Raju-1,” he adds.
Jaganatha who runs the Rajapalayam Nursery Garden says he creates over 14,000 saplings a year from various mother trees, and distributes them to farmers in the region. Establishing a healthy, productive mother tree requires planning and preparation. Using the grafting method, he grows a sapling and waits for three years for the tree to yield fruit. Then he confirms the mango variety based on taste, texture and size.
“I have 20 mother trees of Mohandas, 15 pottalma, four karuppati kai and hundreds of panchavarnam. The taste is the same wherever they are planted, but in red soil, the size of the fruit is slightly smaller,” he says. “Panchavarnam especially is sought after as it is high yielding, and the mango can be stored for 20 days. As its peel begins to shrink, the sweetness of the fruit increases.” His latest project is saving the round vadu manga, which has a pink stem and is used for pickling in South India.
Fazila Fathima’s family grows 15 mango varieties on their 8.5-acre farm in Tada, near the Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh border. “This includes dilpasand, putty, guamango, khudadad, khadar, pether, badami, and jehangir,” says Fazila, adding that this summer they sold it via home delivery around Chennai under the brand name, Mango Super Kings.
For over two decades, the harvest from the grove was exported, but with the pandemic affecting exports since last year, they have been retailing within Chennai. “We had an overwhelming response last year. This year, we began to get enquiries ahead of season and have recruited staff to deliver all over the city,” she says.
As mangoes are seasonal and their shelf life limited, many of these farmers are finding ways to preserve their harvest so that nothing goes to waste.
While Mango Super Kings makes mango jams from different varieties, Umaramanan sells dehydrated mangoes online. He says that, as native mangoes have solid flesh with less water content, which helps the process and yields more output, “they suit this process the best”.
Where to buy
Organic Farmers Market, Thiruvanmiyur: 9790900887
reStore, ECR: 24921093
www.jayanthagrofarms.in: , Phone: 9962008974
Mango Super Kings, Royapettah : Phone: 7338866441
Roos Food Concept: 8870801234