Steal­ing the lime­light

Fo­cus on Alphonso has re­sulted in ne­glect of na­tive mango va­ri­eties grown in the Western Ghats, some of which are on the brink of ex­tinc­tion


Fo­cus on Alphonso mango has led to the ne­glect of other lo­cal va­ri­eties in the Western Ghats

THE WESTERN Ghats of Ma­ha­rash­tra are fa­mous for pro­duc­ing Alphonso mango. But the fo­cus on this pre­mium va­ri­ety due to a huge de­mand for it has re­sulted in a ne­glect of the na­tive va­ri­eties the re­gion has grown since ages. Some of th­ese are on the verge of ex­tinc­tion.

The Western Ghats are one of the re­gions in the coun­try where na­tive mango va­ri­eties were first cul­ti­vated. But no univer­sity or re­search in­sti­tute in the area has tried to map the ge­netic di­ver­sity of the lo­cal va­ri­eties or con­serve them.

In 2011-12, vil­lage-level clubs started un­der the Ma­ha­rash­tra gov­ern­ment’s Western Ghats Spe­cial Eco Clubs Scheme, an ed­u­ca­tional ini­tia­tive for school chil­dren, iden­ti­fied 205 mango va­ri­eties in the re­gion. Talk­ing to Down To Earth, Satish Awate of the Cen­tre for En­vi­ron­ment Ed­u­ca­tion (cee), the gov­ern­ment body co­or­di­nat­ing the ini­tia­tive, said the find­ings are not com­pre­hen­sive and spe­cialised work needs to be done to map and con­serve the va­ri­eties.

Most of the mango va­ri­eties iden­ti­fied dur­ing the scheme, which is op­er­a­tional in 63 talukas (sub-di­vi­sion) of 12 dis­tricts fall­ing within the Western Ghats, are grown in back­yards of houses, farm bunds or vil­lage com­mu­nity land. Peo­ple in­volved in con­ser­va­tion of th­ese va­ri­eties say their char­ac­ter­is­tics and uses are very dif­fer­ent. Di­nesh Lad, a farmer from Tam­bak­wadi Murde vil­lage in Rat­na­giri dis­trict, has a tree of a va­ri­ety called Bhopali which gets its name from its large size. The word Bhopali comes from bho­pla, which means pump­kin in Marathi. “This mango has a thick skin which

makes it suit­able for pick­les. Be­cause its flesh is sweet even be­fore it ripens, it is eaten as salad while still crisp, ”says Lad.

Lahu Kalb­hor of Pune’s Ur­wade vil­lage says Mad­hgoti, a tiny, round mango grow­ing in his farm, is in high de­mand be­cause of its sweet juice.“It tastes sweeter than honey,” he says. A sec­ond va­ri­ety he is try­ing to con­serve is known as Jhaplya, named after the thick shade of the tree. This sweet-sour pulpy mango has a long shelf life and is pre­ferred for mak­ing aam­ras— fresh mango juice— con­sumed as part of fes­tive meals.

San­jay Wagh­mare of Tad­wale vil­lage in Satara dis­trict grows Shepu amba, a va­ri­ety named after the lo­cal name for dill greens, a veg­etable, be­cause it has a dis­tinc­tive aroma sim­i­lar to the greens. Kho­pri amba, another va­ri­ety he grows, has hard crisp flesh like that of a co­conut, hence the name.

Though the de­mand for Alphonso is more, th­ese lo­cal va­ri­eties have a mar­ket of their own. Most of th­ese va­ri­eties, say farm­ers, fetch be­tween 5,000 and 20,000

` ` per tree ev­ery year. “Un­like Alphonso, which dom­i­nates mango cul­ti­va­tion in our area, the pro­duc­tion and mar­ket price of th­ese desi man­goes are sta­ble and the cost of cul­ti­va­tion neg­li­gi­ble,” says Kalb­hor.But the enor­mous push by the gov­ern­ment and the mar­ket to pro­mote Alphonso has led to the de­cline of th­ese va­ri­eties. Farm­ers say that not only were or­chards of lo­cal va­ri­ety man­goes re­placed with Alphonso, trees were felled to make crates for trans­port­ing Alphonso. Dur­ing the cee ini­tia­tive, only one or two trees could be lo­cated for a sig­nif­i­cant num­ber of the newly iden­ti­fied va­ri­eties, in­di­cat­ing that they may be close to be­com­ing ex­tinct.

There are other fac­tors at play as well. In sev­eral ar­eas, vil­lage forests that had mango trees grow­ing in the wild were taken over by the for­est depart­ment which got mango trees re­placed with tim­ber species, in­forms Awate.

Frag­men­ta­tion of agri­cul­tural land is another rea­son. Frag­men­ta­tion is dif­fi­cult to check be­cause fam­i­lies mul­ti­ply and land hold­ings shrink, mak­ing it dif­fi­cult for farm­ers to cul­ti­vate mango trees. Some trees can spread over sev­eral hun­dred square me­tres.

Ear­lier, the gov­ern­ment would plant lo­cal fruit va­ri­eties in pub­lic spa­ces, such as road­side, but the prac­tice has been discontinued. Ma­ha­rash­tra’s Pub­lic Works Depart­ment does not even have guide­lines for plan­ta­tion along roads. Even where plan­ta­tion is be­ing done, lo­cal fruit and shade-giv­ing va­ri­eties like mango, ja­mun and neem are ig­nored. Species like gul­mo­har, and bot­tle-brush are pre­ferred.

Th­ese fac­tors make the task of con­serv­ing lo­cal va­ri­eties much more dif­fi­cult. Also, there is a need to sci­en­tif­i­cally study and ge­net­i­cally map the newly iden­ti­fied va­ri­eties be­cause in ru­ral ar­eas, man­goes with sim­i­lar char­ac­ter­is­tics go un­der a common name. Dur­ing the cee ini­tia­tive, four dif­fer­ent spec­i­mens in three dis­tricts were found to have the same name— Shepu amba. All have the dis­tinc­tive aroma of the mango but their size, shape and fi­bre con­tent are dif­fer­ent.

Con­ser­va­tion ef­forts

cee has taken a two-way ap­proach to save lo­cal mango va­ri­eties.On the one hand it has ap­proached in­sti­tu­tions to en­cour­age them grow lo­cal va­ri­eties, and on the other, it has taken steps to in­crease peo­ple’s par­tic­i­pa­tion. Three in­sti­tu­tions—Shivaji Univer­sity, Kolhapur, High En­ergy Ma­te­rial Re­search Lab, Pune and iskcon (In­ter­na­tional So­ci­ety for Kr­ishna Con­scious­ness)—have agreed to cul­ti­vate and con­serve 25 to 50 va­ri­eties in their own grounds.

At the peo­ple’s level, cee has en­gaged with vil­lage com­mu­ni­ties. Urawade vil­lage, for in­stance, has agreed to con­serve and mul­ti­ply lo­cally avail­able va­ri­eties. Graft­ing work­shops have been held in sev­eral schools to en­cour­age stu­dents to par­tic­i­pate in con­ser­va­tion ef­forts.

“Since th­ese va­ri­eties evolve nat­u­rally, they grow best in their na­tive habi­tat. To pro­mote them, it is es­sen­tial to con­duct re­search and en­hance their eco­nomic vi­a­bil­ity, ”says Awate.But this would re­quire a lot of ground work. The cee ini­tia­tive cov­ered only 50 lo­ca­tions in the 600 km stretch of the ghats, from Nan­dur­bar to Sind­hudurg. There may be many more va­ri­eties wait­ing to be dis­cov­ered.


A woman prac­tis­ing graft­ing tech­nique dur­ing a work­shop to pro­mote lo­cal mango va­ri­eties in Urawade vil­lage, Ma­ha­rash­tra

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