For the Love of Mangos

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For The Love of Mangos-Philippines, Thailand and Japan, 2009

Thu, Apr 23, 2009 at 02:14:02 PM

Curator Noris Ledesma delves once again into the world of the mango with an ambitious agenda of adventures to capture the true spirit of the Asian mango and her people. In the Philippines she will take in the celebration of the mango in Guimaras to capture the 'Carabao' in her full glory.  It is then on to Thailand for a photographic tour of the Bangkok floating market, Talad Thai and the orchards of South Thailand - her lens recording the subtle shapes and expressions of the mango and her people. Then she is off to Okinawa and the modern world of the dwarf, intensive cultivation of the orient. Mangos destined for the upscale markets of Japan and beyond. Ambitious yes, but she is equal the challenge as Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden goes to the orient for the love of mangos.  

Manila and Davao, Philippines, April 14, 2009

I had long dreamed of visiting the Philippines to learn of the islands and to see the famous Carabao in all her splendor. My opportunity came when I developed a friendship with Mr. Carlos H. Mandujano, the Vice president of Dole Company. Carlos extended an open invitation to come and see the operations of his company in this part of Asia. 

My first visit to Manila, and I was greeted by my first mangos - in the international Airport of Manila. It was a warm welcome indeed and a good omen for my visit. Early morning before breakfast I took a taxi to go to the Cubao open-air farmers market, located close my hotel. The market was small but with a good variety of products. There she was, 'Carabao' of good quality, offered by the gentle, smiling children. 

In the afternoon I flew to Davao to meet Javier Mayo, the Manager of mango operation from Dole. We visited the packing house. Mangos are the third largest export crop in the Philippines behind bananas and pineapples. Yet, unlike those other crops, which are farmed on huge plantations by multinationals, by mangos are grow by local farmers who sell their production to the world.

Guimaras, Philippines, April 15, 2009


Early morning by land, water and air we travel crossing the Philippine islands to get to Guimaras to catch up with the opening of the Mango Festival on the 16th. Finally, after reading and hearing so much about the world famous Mangos of Guimaras, we arrive to the convention center. The king of the party was the 'Carabao' mango, arranged in perfect uniformity, this long and slender aureolin fruit rests in the shelves like golden nuggets.


This is their 16th mango festival, and it has been dedicated to the local community - all the farmers stop their work for one week to celebrate with mangos. All residents of Guimara and Ilo Island came to participate in the event. I went armed only with an appetite for mango lore and a camera for the taking of pictures. Once more I was warmed by the kindness of the Philippines and her people.


 The event is supported by the government, and the island is a fruit fly-free zone for mangos.

In the festival they have the fruit market, artistic representation and local culinary offerings. It was a great experience to see how the people are proud of their mangos, where every grower claims to have the best mango - of course each is right. 

Guimaras, Philippines, April 16, 2009

 We meet with Dr. Yondre J. Yonder, the director in charge of the National Mango Research Development Center in the Island, to discuss about mangos, and with them we returned to the mango festival to see the Kids Day at the festival. Hundreds of children had their educational activities around her, the ´Carabao´ - the queen of the mango.

In the afternoon we visited a mango processing factory and a single woman trying to make the difference. Marina Guzman´s mango ketchup is extremely popular in the surrounding islands. She works from her home kitchen to produce the finest of products and proudly shows her certificates of health. Her children look on, committed to the struggle for a quality product. Mangos are considered as the national fruit of the country due to its several uses and rising importance and high potential both in the local and world market. Mangoes are eaten in the Philippines raw, cooked, frozen, preserved or dried.

Ripe mangoes are eaten out of hand or mixed with rice in a daily fare of Suman (Rice roles) used for important festivities. Rice is the base of the Philippine diet. Green mangos are used raw mixed with a vinegar and salt - I was immediately transported back to my childhood in Colombia. Mangos are used in the industry for candies, ice cream, sherbet, and baked products, while unripe mangoes (usually an Indian variety) are a good source of juice. The demand for processed mango is increasing, as seen in the proliferation of mango products in supermarkets and road side markets.

 My journal with mangos in the Philippines is almost over, and I have to start my return to Manila to reach Thailand. I will carry with me the best of memories of this country, their kindness, and their passion by their 'Carabao' mango. 

  Bangkok, Thailand, April 17 and 18, 2009

The last time I visited Bangkok was to participate in the Lychee and Longan Symposium in 2002. As soon as I arrived I drank in the sounds and feel of the bustling streets, alive with the noise of car horns and commerce - the day-to-day of Bangkok. My friend Dang and her husband, mango growers nearby to the city, were waiting for me at the airport. We traveled 2 hours to their mango orchard northwest of Bangkok. On the highway I saw mangos for sale on the street, but they suggested going to the local fruit market. I gladly obliged, taking in the Thai countryside of rice, jackfruit and mango in its full glory. The market had good quality 'Nam Doc Mai' and 'Okrong Tong'. There were also 'Kheio Savoy', and a small local selection unknown to me. We partook in a few choice specimens in the afternoon heat, fully embracing the silky smoothness of the fruit.


We arrived at their farm with the sunset. The property is surrounded by gigantic tamarind trees that gave their farm its name. At the farm, dinner was waiting for us with fresh vegetables, fish with green mango salsa. The next day, bright and early we make a tour of the orchard. The farm is organic with some traditional cultivars, and most of their production is sold internally. Fruit were sold mature green and ripe, depending on the market and the cultivar. They had major problems with fruit fly, which they controlled by bagging.

In the afternoon we returned to Bangkok. I for one was full on body and spirit with the Thai countryside and her mangos - graceful and delicious at her peak.        

 Bangkok, Thailand, April 19, 2009

Khun Punlert, my contact from Dole picked me up early to go to the Floating Market. She suggested a different place that just the local people use. We took a short journey, arriving at our destination surrounded by mangos, jackfruit and coconut palms. This was a different side of Bangkok. We passed some middle-class homes along our river route with interesting gardens comprised of a wide range of fruit trees. Along both sides of the canals the banks were cluttered with wooden houses perched precariously over the waters' edge; always adorned with potted ornamentals of all descriptions. Most conspicuous were the ornate crown-of-thorns of all shapes and colors. The floating market was dominated by mangos in season, 'Nam Doc Mai', 'Kheio Savoy', 'Raet' and also mixed vegetables, rose apple, coconuts and sticky rice served as a popular dish with ripe mango. The recipe is different than in the Philippines, but just as delicious. I used this beautiful scene to take pictures for our book. It was a pleasure to get a quick glimpse into this most unusual lifestyle running parallel to the daily life in Bangkok. 

Following lunch we went to the Talad Thai wholesale fruit market, which is reported to be the largest in Asia. The market is truly immense and focused on the large-scale distribution of products. The mango section was dominated by 'Nam Doc Mai' and 'Okrong Tong'. There were 'Kheio Savoy', 'Raet' and other minor cultivars also. All were of good quality, I was expecting to see fruit in display using the traditional baskets but the modern word has reached Talad Thai and changed them to plastic. Effecient and necessary no doubt, but through the eye of the camera it is simply not the same, but I know that I cannot dwell on the past. 

Bangkok, Thailand, April 20, 2009

Early morning Khun pick me up to visit a mango orchard near of Panut-Nileom town, Mr. Su-vit Ku-na-wut is one of the best mango growers in Bangkok, he proud show his awards in his packing box. Some of the traditional cultivars, and most of his production is sold for export. He mainly has 'Nam Doc Mai #4' 'Nam Doc Mai- Golden', and 'Kheio Savoy'. They start to plant some 'Irwin' mangos to target the Japanese market. Fruit were sold mature green and ripe, depending on the market and the cultivar. 

 Su-vit was knowledgeable about the cultivars and the management was in general improved. They had major problems with fruit fly, which they controlled through a combination of baiting, sanitation and chemical application. Pruning is well adopted in Thailand.

All pruning was by hand and the tree height was in general less than 3.5 m. Most trees has bloom induction practiced using drought stress and paclobutrazol. In speaking with him I obtained straight forward answers about cultivars, unlike what I was receive during the remainder of the expedition. 


 In the afternoon we stop by the farmers market, Panut-Nileom is one of the oldest city in Thailand, and it show it in the arquitecture and their old style of life. I enjoy having lunch in a local place in town, where they served in the floor. I also coud't resist to buy some of the beuty traditional Thai banquets for the mango festival.

Bangkok, Thailand, April 21, 2009


Before my departure from this beautiful country, I visited yet another floating market to buy mangos and take more pictures. There are many floating markets near Bangkok; canals surround the city where the local growers bring their products from other villages. 

Details make themselves clear to me on this day. The Thai mango is honed to a perfection of texture, a silky sweetness and simplicity of flavor here in Thailand. Mango has been domesticated in these lands for generations to arrive at her present perfection. Horticulturists have worked their magic of selection here in Thailand. Each variety has its own sense of place among her people. Her flavors are delicate and curves sophisticated. She, the mango is an inspiration to me and I will leave with a rejuvenated sense of her. Yet, my heart is heavy, for this land is an inspiration to the lover of the mango.

I want to thank Dole and their people for their support in this experience. I take with me good memories and images for the love of mangos. I travel to Okinawa- Japan and the modern world of the dwarf, intensive cultivation of the orient.

Okinawa, Japan, April 22, 2009

My friends Yasunori Hamada and John Yonemoto helped me out with their contacts in Okinawa. Takaaki Maeda from Jinnai Tropical Fruit Research Center and Hamada were waiting for me at the airport to take me to the hotel. Okinawa is comprised of 150 islands, where farming is molded to its subtropical climate. Agricultural crops include sugar cane, vegetables, flowers and fruits. Mangoes were introduced to Okinawa in the early 1900s, and since the technique for mango production using plastic greenhouses was established, mango production has been increasing year by year. Recently, mangos have become an important part of the Okinawan horticulture industry. The current mango production in Okinawa is about 1460 MT per year.

Our first visit in the m orning was to the Botanic Garden Tropical Dream Center. On the way to the garden, we stopped to pick up Inoe Hirotsugu, from the Agricultural Extension Division in Okinawa. They have a tropical fruit pavilion including mango, jackfruit, canistel, cacao, acerola, and many others. Their orchid display was absolutely impressive. After the botanic garden we drove to Uruma to visit Susumu Onaga, a pioneer mango grower in Okinawa. He started his grove in 1970 in this area. Since that time he has maintained his traditional way of pruning and managing his grove.


He belives in the variety 'Irwin', like the rest of the people in Okinawa. The rootstocks used are a polyembrionic type from Taiwan. They do not induce blooming, as it occurs naturally during the cool winter season. Trees are heavily mulched and intensely managed by pruning. He leaves two principal branches horizontaly to support the canopy for the rest of their life. This will provide light in the most eficient way acording with him. We had a long discussion about mango managment. The harvest season is in June and the average wholesale price of mangos at the Okinawa central wholesale market is 100 yen/kg. I really enjoyed this visit to see for myself how the Japanese have been domesticated Florida mangos according with their tradition and culture.


 Okinawa, Japan, April 23, 2009

In the morning we visited the Fruit Research Center in Nagao . Satoshi Nakasone and Masato Matsumura made a tour at the station. I was impressed with the size of the trees. They are developing a breeding program, and horticulture techniques for the local growers.

The most important cultivar is 'Irwin' , but they also are testing other Florida cultivars such as 'Valencia Pride', 'Haden', 'Keitt' and others. The Japanese preference is for red mangos. Researchers at the station are trying to extend the season of mangos in Okinawa with greenhouses. Normally fruit is harvested when fully mature and is commercially available from June to August. This is the standard type. But other types are in development to extend the harvesting period from May to August.

In the afternoon we went to visit the largest commercial mango grower on the island. Mr. Yasukichi was waiting for us. Proud of his trees, he showed us his 'Irwin' mangos. He controls the temperature to have mangos one month earlier than the rest on the island. Prunning is his key and his 20 year old mangos have been pruned every year, removing wood to rejuvenate the canopy and have more points of production. They have challenges with thrips and anthracnose to overcome. Pollination is promoted by flies during the flowering season using fish and opening the green houses. In order to attain a full red color they carefully expose the fruit to the sunlight until they get full ripenes and can be harvested. The price of mangos in the early season is about 4000 Yen/kilo and it drops to 1500 Yen/Kilo in July during the peak of the season. The local mangos in Japan are very expensive, but they satisfy urban consumers by replacing the low quality imported fruit. 

My time in Okinawa is finished, and I will bring with me a good lesson of horticulture, based in the Japanese culture that for almost one hundred years has been changing the nature of the mango tree, converting it into a small and productive expression of a bonsai Mango.

Thank you to my friends in Okinawa, where the goverment and industry support me in this experiece for the Love of mangos!


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