For the Love of Mangos

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For The Love of Mangos India, 2008

Tue, May 13, 2008 at 05:22:52 PM

Fairchild Tropical Fruit Program ventures back to the ancestral home of the mango - India. Our mango team Dr. Richard J. Campbell and Noris Ledesma the Curators of Tropical Fruit went to the monsoonal plains in search of the secrets of the king of tropical fruit. For 2 weeks in May, 'Alphonso', 'Kesar', and 'Dusehri' will become daily fare, treasured for their sweet, complexity of fruitiness and Indian spice. Nowhere on earth is the mango more cherished, or more integral to the people and their homeland. From the subtle secrets of traditional management techniques to timeless images of the mango and its people engaged in the harvest, the sale - the day-to-day of Indian mango growing, they will soak it in. They do it for the love of mangos, the thirst for knowledge and the legacy of David Fairchild.

Mumbai, 5 May, 2008

Arriving in Mumbai (Bombay) we were instantly transported back to the time of the Nawabs through the faces of the smiling men,women and children; at the same time we are struck by the progress of modern Mumbai, the construction and progress. A short rest and then into the field to visit Greenpoint Hillstation and Biotech Pvt. Ltd. Five hundred hectares of mangos destined for internal and export markets, they are faced with the same challenges that confront the mango everywhere – market, production, quality and an uncertain future.

A blending of old and new, we are immediately immersed in their daily struggle. Our two young friends bring us back to the basics, for in their hands the 'Van Raj' mango is not a commercial product of import and export, but rather a jewel to be cherished and passion to be indulged. The orchard and indeed entire countryside welcomed us,  the coming of the mango season, and the monsoon to follow.

By afternoon we are off to Goa, a bit tired, but content in the heat and humidity with the hopes  of fragrant 'Alphonso's that lie ahead.

 Ratnagiri, 6 May, 2008

 

We awoke in Goa and headed north along the Malabar Coast to Ratnagiri. The Portuguese architecture along the route brought to life colonial times of centuries past with the modern veneer of Indian culture. As we rose in elevation within arms' reach of the sea, aged mango orchards appeared in their full glory. Tidy walls of rich burgundy framed the landscape, fashioned of a porous, local aggregate cut from the nearby ground. Circular enclosures of the same material surrounded each 'Alphonso' tree in an effort to hold on to whatever soil and organic matter that could be had in the Spartan surroundings.

The trees clung to the rocky slopes, their canopies the color of mimosa and their branches straining beneath the weight of the ample, maturing crop.

Unseasonal rains and the resultant fungal diseases plague the industry this year, as well as the persistent challenge of spongy tissue or internal breakdown. The region of Ratnagiri is active in the export of 'Alphonso' to the United States, using irradiation to protect the United States against quarantine pests. Clearly there are major hurdles facing the 'Alphonso', both within India and for export, but we wish our friends all the best in their struggle to provide the 'Alphonso' to the West so that the entire world can partake in its bounty.

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 Devgadh,7 May, 2008

 

Working our way back to Goa, we made stops in Ratnagiri and Devgadh regions to sample 'Alphonso' mangos and visit the fields of progresive farmers. This day we completely immersed ourselves in the 'Alphonso', entering a world of rich honey-like sweetness and Indian spice. Orchard visits were both beautiful and enlightening in regard to fruit qualiy. The 'Alphonso' of this entire region is born of the monsoon, 250 days of sunshine, a spartan soil,and the infusion of the Arabian Sea breeze.

The combination is a powerful synergy of mango quality. The fruit born of these trees are the color of an Indian sunset, alive with a deep saffron and intense sweetness of refined complexity. Any consumer would be blessed indeed to have access to such a fruit. We spoke with growers of the management of the tree and fruit, the soils, the nutrition and the care. The orchards, even of considerable age, have a distinct calmness about them, that is, the trees grow slowly, scratching out a humble existence on these thin-soiled rolling hills. One could not help but make the comparison to a grape vinyard in the South of France; the obligate need for proper soil, nutrition and air quality. And, as with a fine wine, a fine mango can be achieved.

Ahmenadad, 8 May, 2008

 We left the warmth and humidity of Goa and flew up to the much hotter dryness of Ahmenadad. These are a different people, unique in custom, in dress and in their appreciation of the mango - we had entered the world of the 'Kesar' mango.  We drove west over a parched terrain painted green in spots by the addition of irrigation. Large, square fields of rice and sorghum lay fallow, awaiting the new crop. Women workers toiled on the rich earth, wrapped in stunning saris, bright with purple, greens and saffron – a simple elegance in a context typically reserved for the drab and disshelved. 

The agriculture practiced here was more "western" to our eyes, that is, until a cart drawn by camel passes by.

We visited the extensive holdings and orchards of the Reliance Global Management Services. On the grounds of soon to be the largest oil refinery in the world we were lead through nearly 1000 ha of mango orchards by Dr. R.T. Gunjate, Vice President of the mango division. Dr. Gunjate's challenge was to convert these dry, salty lands into productive mango orchards. With an uncanny resemblance to the orchards of Israel and South Africa, the Reliance mango project is succeeding with the addition of cutting edge technology and de-salinated water.  Yet, it has not been easy, and we are told of the suffering of thousands of mango trees due to saline water a few short years ago – it is only for the love of the mango that the company's president provides the precious high-quality water needed for success. 

The result of the work of the Reliance group hangs heavy on the branches of the small trees, 'Kesar', 'Mallika' and a handful of other varieties destined for domestic and export markets. In the shade of the orchard we sampled our first 'Kesar' of good maturity. We were warned that they were not up to the standard of eating quality that our hosts are accustomed, but in these few fruit the gentle richness of the 'Kesar' came through. The challenge is to obtain, maintain and deliver this quality to the market. The bloom of this region was also unusual, ushered in much later than usual, perhaps due to a changing climate. Climate change was not our concern on this day, but we found ourselves all the poorer, as the harvest lie 3 to 4 weeks off.  The Reliance orchards were an education and treat for the eye, but a definite tease for our taste buds. We left Jamnagar and the Gulf of Kutch for the south in anticipation of ripe 'Kesar' and a deeper understanding and appreciation for this productive and quality fruit.

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 Kesar and Gir, 9 May, 2008

 

 This day we headed south through the Gir Hills to the heart of the land of 'Kesar'. This is the mango that India has chosen to lead the way for export to America. We visit a brand new packinghouse constructed for the packing and export of fresh fruit and pulp to the United States. Sitting within the administrative office of the facility we are treated to a 'Kesar' feast. The flavor is deep and spicy with strong influences of vanilla and Indian spice. The flavor changes dramatically among the different stages of maturity given to us for sampling. This will be one of the most important challenges to their success, for uniformity in our markets will be key. We visit a number of orchards, which are in stark contrast to the 'Alponso' region of Ratnagiri. Here the trees are growing larger due to the deeper soils. Production was poor this year, but we witness orchards with respectable yields. We are concerned about the increased pampering of the trees in the form of water and nitrogen and we stress the need for tougher love for the 'Kesar'.

We attend the 'Kesar'  auction in the wholesale market. This is an experience indeed, where each farmer brings his harvest to have it auctioned to the highest bidder among the enthusiastic buyers. We try to infuse added energy into the event, but are only able to increase the selling price a few pennies on the pound. The market is a moving spectacle of 'Kesar', farmers and buyers – the sights and sounds are intoxicating. It is hot, the action is fast and the passion for the mango is everywhere in the faces of the people. In the afternoon we are treated by Bashkar Savani, our tireless and most resourceful host, to a game drive in the national park, where we get up close and personal with no less than 6 lions. The Asiatic lion is the proud symbol of this region, the last place on earth where this breed survives and it brings to mind the work of our friends in India, struggling to bring the 'Kesar', the mango of Inida to the Americas. With a perfect 'Kesar' in the hand, we are compelled to tell its story.

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Gujarat, 10 May, 2008 

There once was a simple man from Gujarat State named Mahandas Gandhi; he left his village of Pordandar to unite a nation by staying a course of action considered impossible by many. Today in Gujarat State the people from the land of Gandhi struggle along a similar path with the cherished mango native to this region. We spent this day among the Savani family near the village of Mota Bhamodra, learning firsthand about the 'Kesar' mango and their quest to put this fruit onto the world stage. Theirs is not the story of hundreds of hectares devoted to the cultivation of mango, but rather a commitment to an ideal for bringing the 'Kesar' to America and the investment in community.

We walked the path of the 'Kesar', tasting the considerable potential of this fruit; as well as, the challenges.

The road to success in the modern world of import and export will not be an easy one, for there is little room for error. There are concerns of uniformity of quality that creep into our thoughts as we witness the excess soil fertility and use of water, such practices leading to mangos of shortened storage life and eating quality. The story is not a unique one, for with the mango, the struggle between tradition, progress and environment is a world-wide phenomenon. In the faces and actions of the growers we sense the resolve and the tradition of mango growing – they have a passion for their 'Kesar', and like Mahatma Gandhi, they continue along their chosen path to its ultimate conclusion.

We leave this region with a deep respect for these people who opened their homes and their hearts to us and provided a glimpse, however short, of the 'Kesar' and the struggle for modernization.  We will wait with keen anticipation for the arrival of the 'Kesar' on the American shores. Only time will tell of their success.

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 Agra, 11 May, 2008 

Nearly 400 years ago the Moghul Emperors ruled over the lands of Northern India. Brutal was their reign, but the mango worked its magic on them and it was under their rule that much development was achieved with the fruit. Extensive variety gardens were planted and maintained in their care – one can only imagine the price paid by the unfortunate local that removed fruit without permission.

We stand in witness to the overwhelming power of the Red Fort and Taj Mahal. For the humble horticulturist, the Taj's grandeur is enhanced by the surrounding gardens of roses whose petals were used to flavor the waters that flowed freely within, and of course the culture of the mango that remains firmly rooted to this day. Centuries have passed and the rulers are long since dead and forgotten, but the blood line of their mangos grows on,  flowering and fruiting for the people.

To understand the mango one must walk upon the marble floors and beneath the shadows of the ornate domes. The classic struggle of power, religion and resources continues to play out in Agra still today and the mango is still king.

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Lucknow, 12 May, 2008

 

 We traveled from Delhi to Lucknow to visit the heart of the North India mango belt. The people and their customs transform yet again as we immerse into a new people and culture; yet, the constant remains – the mango. A young Dr. David Fairchild walked these paths under the shade of these very trees. He had a deep respect for the people of India and all that they have done for the mango, his memoirs often refer to the Lucknow area with a deep sentiment and adoration. We pass through many a small village on route to 'Duhseri', the home of the regal mango of the same name. The tree has an elegance all its own. Reportedly over 300 years of age, the tree has nearly a perfect symmetry, with its powerful branches still held proudly skyward. This relic of centuries past has survived war, drought and monsoon. The production continues, and the branches hang heavy with the weight of this year's crop. We cannot contain our enthusiasm and are compelled to climb among its powerful branches, transporting back to a time of childlike innocence in the arms of the 'Duhseri'.

The 'Duhseri' remains the dominant mango of North India, ripening to a mimosa yellow, with a saffron flesh bursting with the aroma of fresh citrus and berries. We visit a number of orchards and learn of the culture and production in this region. We know we will end tired from yet another long day on our quest to experience the magic of the Indian mango, but as David Fairchild knew well, sleep can come another day, for the mango now drives us.

 Lucknow, 13 May, 2008

 

The final day of our grueling India expedition began in the local fruit and vegetable market in Lucknow. As we traveled the local markets of the country over the past two weeks we were schooled in a diversity of products unique to each region, and here in Lucknow, at the feet of the towering Himalayas, there were bags of bael, jackfruit and vegetables of all types.

The sights, smells and products of the market little changed for centuries, save the incessant din of motorized vehicles. The mangos in this market, as we found in Delhi were predominantly 'Bangnapalli', brought in from the Southeast of the county – the season was still 3 weeks away here in the North. Due to the lack of mangos in the market we decided to make a quick visit before our flight to one of the mango elders of the region.  Haji Kaleem was flanked by his father Ullah Khan and 2 other elder members of the family, all in traditional dress for our visit. The scene was one lifted directly from the immortal journals of David Fairchild. We spoke of the mango, times past and the future that lie ahead for the king of fruit. When asked to reveal his favorite mango, Mr. Kaleem deftly side-stepped the question, explaining that to name only one would be a betrayal for all the other deserving varieties. So true, Mr. Kaleem, for this is like asking one to choose a favorite among his very own children. Love must be spread equally among all.

We walked among the mature orchard where variety and management told a story of tradition handed down the generations since the time of the Mogul emperors. Here 'Ashlul Mukarar', 'Sey Fasala', 'Samshul Asmar' and 'Gilas' made up a short list of heirloom varieties grafted rather haphazardly throughout the orchard. We took our time, taking in the unique aromas of each type, the essence of the flavors to come. It was a magical moment of mango discovery. Here on the northern plains of India the true essence of the mango was revealed to us by a humble man, a mango Holy man if you will. We will never forget Mr. Kaleem and his love for the mango and his passion will live on in the varieties revealed to us this day.  

 

 


 

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