It’s been a busy month for organic farmer Arya Bhaskar. The 46-year-old is harvesting India’s favorite fruit at his 40-acre mango orchard, Kovamara Farms, in Andipatti near Palani. His six workers gather early in the day to pluck large, half-ripe yellow mangoes from each tree.
Arya has trained them on the harvesting process, de-sapping, washing the mangoes in lukewarm water and finally sorting them. Once every two days, Arya takes the crop to Coimbatore, from where it is sent to Chennai through a parcel service. It makes its way to local organic stores in the city and eventually into the hands of eager mango-lovers, who wait to argue over who gets to eat the pulp that surrounds the seed.
Disposal of cut mangoes in ARNV farms. Photo Credit: Special Arrangement
For Arya and many other mango farmers, this year has been a tumultuous season. Rain accompanied by heavy winds during the flowering and budding season reduced mango yields by 40 percent across southern India.
Unseasonal rains and unpredictable climate change have created quite a stir among farmers, especially small farmers. Arya says. “Our losses haven’t been that bad. We have saved around 75 per cent of our produce. That’s because we have a large area, and our natural farming practices have helped,” he says, referring to his 13-year-old farm in the foothills of the Western Ghats.
However, Arya and many other organic farmers have persevered in the face of adversity. Looks like they have taken an optimistic step to kick off this summer – the long mango season that lasts till July.
It is very important to harvest mangoes at the right time. , Photo Credit: Special Arrangement
The mango season usually begins around mid-April with the arrival of Senthuram, Mallika and Alphonso, followed by Banganapalli, Imam Pasand, Kalapada, Neelam, Malagova and others in May. This year, farmers say the ripest versions of these fruits will hit the market only by the third week of May.
Each of the varieties has a distinctive flavor and taste. The imam pasand and malgova butter are sweet fruits, nadu cholai and senthuram are fibrous and are known for their aroma and taste.
Organic Mangoes are being washed and graded. Photo Credit: Special Arrangement
Gopi Devarajan of Chennai’s Organic Farmers Market (OFM) says at his store in Adyar that he has already stocked Senthuram, Alphonso, Imam Pasand and Salem Gundu. They say that by the fourth week of May, there will be a huge influx of Banganapalli, the most popular variety in Tamil Nadu. Gopi says, “It will be worth the wait.”
Gururaj Rao, co-founder of Deep Rooted, an agri-tech company with a network of over 1000 farmers, offers urban consumers varieties like Peda Rasalu, Chinna Rasalu, Badami, Raspuri and Kalapada, which are lesser known in Tamil Nadu.
An accurate understanding of the life cycle of the fruit is needed to ensure that optimum sweetness is achieved. “Letting the fruit mature on the tree until it forms and harvesting along with the stem are important factors. The right time to harvest determines the flavor and sweetness of the fruit,” says Hari Sethuram of Organic Shandy in Chennai.
Mangoes at the organic farmers market in Indira Nagar, Chennai. , Photo credit: Raghunathan SR
Farmer Arya says that till the middle of April this year, those who came to taste the mangoes were disappointed. They were often sour, he says. For such batches of mangoes, farmers have started producing value-added products like mango pulp and mango marmalade. “We even turn them into mango bars. It is easy to prepare and does not require any preservatives. The shelf life is around one year,” says Arya. In his farm, he makes mango pudding with jaggery and lemon juice. A solar dehydrator unit would be a valuable addition, says Arya, as there is a huge market overseas for dried mangoes.
Arya says that this year the organic gardens have yielded better. Farmers attribute this to natural farming methods. “We also use fish amino acids, panchagavya and neem oil during the process of flowering, bud formation and fruit setting to ensure that the fruit increases in size,” says Ramnarayan of Natural Mango. Even cow dung is processed to increase its virility. Natural farmers usually follow biodynamic farming, and carefully following all these processes gives better yields and better taste than commercial farming.”
Chennai, 16/05/2023 : Mangoes at the organic farmers market in Indira Nagar, Chennai. Photo: Raghunathan SR / The Hindu | Photo credit: Raghunathan SR
Mangoes are ready for harvesting in the fields of Kumara, Palani | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement
In the last five years, there has been a wide discussion on climate change, crop productivity, adoption of natural farming practices. Arya says that there has also been talk of making mango trees disease-resistant by strengthening the soil.
Organic farmer Shahjahan A, who owns 28 acres of organic mangoes in Adimalai, Salem, feels that some of these climate changes have changed a bit when it comes to the size and weight of the fruits. “More and more farmers are converting their agricultural land into mango orchards as they require less water and few labourers. As a result, more acres of mango orchards are coming up every year and the state produces a good amount of mangoes in every season,” he says.
Arya says that indigenous varieties of mangoes can withstand all kinds of weather. “My losses are least when it comes to Imam Pasand and Malgoa. Going forward, I will also plant indigenous mangoes like Panchavarnam, Salem Gundu, Nadu Cholai and Neelam,” he says.
“There seems to be a preference for one or two varieties. But I think everyone should taste different varieties when available. Senthuram is a very sweet and tasty variety but is under-appreciated. Other indigenous varieties , like naadu cholai, pethar and salem gundu are unique and taste good,” says Gopi.
Where to order?
Organic Farmers Market, Adyar: 6380169943
Restore Organic Store, Kottivakkam: 2492 1093
Organic Shandy, Mylapore: 77086 12348
Earth Spirit, Mylapore: 9500082142
Cholayil Farm to Table Store, Anna Nagar: 6384469396