Mention mangoes, everybody thinks about the sweet mango fruits. For a change, here was a mango festival that was different. Midi Mavu 07 ('midi mavu' in Kannada means tender mango) was festival of tender, sour mangoes used for pickles. The three day event (23-25 April) held at Sagar in Shimoga district of Karnataka attracted 6000 visitors and more than 500 cultivars of tender mangos.
Appe midi, the special pickle mango
Appe Midis on display in an exhibition section, at Midi Maavu 2007. Pic: Shree Padre.
Appe Midi is a distinct kind of wild tender mango used for pickle purposes only. Its fruits are very sour and cannot be eaten. It is found in Khanapur and Chittoor areas of Belgaum district, in river valleys of Aghanashini, Kali, Bedthi, Sharavathi and Varada of Uttara Kannada district, in and around Sagar and Rippanpete of Shimoga district and parts of Chickmagalur districts of Karnataka.
All the wild mango trees of these regions don't yield appe midi. Local experts easily make out an appe midi from an ordinary tender wild mango. Appe midi is quite long - generally 2.5 to 3 inches - has considerable amount of latex, looks pale green in colour and will last for years as pickle, sans any artificial preservative. (Latex is the transparent thick liquid that oozes out from the stalk of the tender mango when you cut it off.) Appe midi's main habitat is on the sides of rivers and rivulets. Of course, there are some exceptions to the above observations. Though most of appe midis are quite long, two to four inches to an exceptional eight inches, there are some which are round and hardly 1.5 inches long. Some are dark green in colour.
Says Ramachandra Shetty, proprietor of M N Pickles, Shiralakoppa, Shimoga district, "At the best 20 per cent of tender mangoes only are appe midis. The rest are usual wild tender mangoes. There are good smelling ones in these too. Generally, industries don't get appe midis. It is bought by others in competition. Appe midis are in great short supply." Shetty is referring to the stiff competition from individual buyers for home pickle production.
Tender coconuts in corp. offices
A green foundation for prosperity
Malanji appe from more than a century old tree near Sirsi is one such much sought after variety. The tree gives yield once in two years. By word of mouth, hundreds of 'regular customers' reach the tree on the day of harvest. If many cars, jeeps and bikes start making beeline on a fine morning, the villagers realise that it's the harvest day of Malanji appe. Sold at one rupee for a tender mango, this tree brought a neat Rs.48,000 to its fourth generation owner Nagappa Naika this year. Naika doesn't give more than 500 mangoes to any customer. Old customers get priority. A particular appe midi tree at Ripponpete this year has earned Rs.68,000 for its master. Similarly, Anantha bhattana appe, haladota appe, harnally jeerige are some other well known appe midis that are very popular in Sirsi area.
Appe midi is also used in many other household preparations like appe saaru, gojju, sasve, chutney, etc. The latex of appe midi has a very dominating smell. It is this latex that acts like a preservative and keeps the pickle good for three to four years! Villagers also collect this latex in a bottle and preserve it for off-season use in cooking to lend that attractive smell to the preparations.
The pickle industry
There are about a dozen big pickle industries in this area that use anything from 20 to 150 tonnes of tender mangoes every year. M N Pickles -- which uses regular tender mangoes and not appe midis - is the highest that uses 150 tonnes and has an impressive 'direct marketing' network. While all other pickle companies mainly depend on shops for marketing, M N Pickles does it through the agents who do direct marketing by running 'mobile shops'. These are special vans that carry pickle shop to different towns and sell it directly.
Different types of pickle exhibited by a local women's self-help group. Pic: Shree Padre.
Many farming households make home-made pickle for select customers. These are supplied in bulk in crockery jars. Prepared in the traditional method, no chemical preservative is used in these. Salaried people like teachers, bank and other officers of these areas buy these pickles for their own use and for presenting to their friends and relatives. There may be about 150 home industries of pickle in Sirsi, Sagar and other taluks, according to a guestimate by Shivanand Kalave, a development journalist and one of the organisers of the Midi Mavu 07 festival. The home industries don't have brand names and do not put labels on their containers. Sometimes they are not even known to all people around. Each of them make around 10 to 20 bharanis (crockery jars) of pickle. One jar contains 25 to 30 Kgs. The total production of appe midi pickles from these household units would be around 50 tonnes per taluk per annum.
All these pickle making units - both household and factories put together - would be making pickle from a whopping 1000 tonnes of appe midi every year, according to another guestimate. "Demand is vast," says Ramachandra Shetty, "in fact, with appe midi pickle, we can make a mark not only in the whole country, but abroad too." The limiting factor though is the availability of raw material - the midi itself. Though there is good income, until now, only a handful number of farmers have started cultivating appe midi trees. And on the other hand, destruction of trees is going on an alarming rate.
Says Shetty, "Don't bother about the market, need of the hour is to conserve and grow more and more appe midis. Take it from me; unless and until some strong willed conservation and cultivation measures are brought in, these appe midi pickles will vanish from the scene in 20 years from now."
According to Ili Suresh, a farmer who has planted many appe midi trees, the number of appe midis in this festival make up only 10 per cent of the total existing ones. "But," reacts Hegde Subba Rao (70), a master graftsman and farmer, "what has remained today is only one tenth of the appe midi trees I have seen in my childhood. The rest are destroyed due to many reasons."
Though Subba Rao's observation may seem exaggerated, there is rampant destruction of this genetic wealth. Road and house construction, hydro-electric projects, use for timber, and so on, have taken the lives of thousands of appe midi trees. Ninety percent of of appe midi trees are in the forest, according to Shivanand Kalave. Kalave has done a grass-root level study and documented about 300 selected appe midi types from different areas. As such, illegal harvesting is common. The older trees that are yielding heavily are all more than a century old. Some of these are very tall. Sometimes, there won't be any branches upto 50 to 80 feet height, making harvesting from such trees a challenge.
Harvesting itself is turning to be a big problem. Skilled workers are reducing in number. Appe midis have to be harvested with their long stalks and have to be carefully brought down from top of the trees. Since the demand is very high, people are cuting off the branches to collect the mangoes. This practice, when repeated many times, spells death for the tree.
The first recorded conservation efforts of this area go back to forties. It was the late Dantkal Ganesh Hegde who grafted the now famous anantha bhattana appe trees. Since the last one decade, about a couple of dozen farmers have started planting graft appe midi trees in their private lands.
Festival gives a filip to conservation
Not surprisingly, the Midi Mavu 07 festival was a very positive indication towards appe midi tree conservation. The event was fully shouldered by the farming community. Farmer Khandika Lakshminarayana Hegde organised at his Hegde Farms, and himself bore almost the whole expenses, that ran to around 3 lakh rupees, says Kalave. There was no financial assistance by any government department.
As a result of screening efforts done in the field in a radius of about 50 km during the last two to three months, Hegde Subba Rao and wife Bhageerathi had identified 70 best appe midi types. "We have selected the ones that are suitable not only for pickles but for at least three to four uses like for appehuli gojju, kuchugay, mosaru gojju, mandana gojju, etc., so that the finally selected ones would bring highest income for the farmers," says Subba Rao. They have put the sample mangoes in brine for pickle making. The tests will go on for another 3 years, which is the best shelf life for some of the selected pickle varieties.
Hegde Subba Rao (70) with his collection of 70 appe midi varieties. Pic: Shree Padre.
Adds Subba Rao: "This is only a beginning; I don't know when it will end. Once we identify the best cultivars, I will ask my shishyas to graft them in large scale. I may not be alive till all these grafts bear fruit, but these rare varieties have to be conserved at any cost." By conducting training classes, Subba Rao has taught grafting techniques to hundreds of farmers in and around Shimoga district.
Shivanand Kalave, development journalist and farmer who had organised a similar event in Sirsi last year was successful in identifying and bringing 290 cultivars of appe midi to the exhibition. To achieve this, he has built a team of four youngsters who did the groundwork for the last one month. His decade long individual passion which has resulted in the documentation of about 300 appe midi cultivars was the foundation for this year's collection.
Another noted difference in the festival (in comparison to other horticulture that are typically government sponsored) was that all those who spoke at the seminar were persons at the grassroots level, mainly farmers who had done some field work. Experience sharing by farmers who have planted appe midi trees gave confidence the rest to start its cultivation. The main message they got is that it is possible to get good crop by planting appe midi grafts in private lands, even though there is no stream or river nearby. Second, growing appe midi and its value addition by the farmer himself would bring a good supplementary income to the farmers who at present are facing many problems in their profession.
Some of the interesting proposals made at the festival were: manegondu midi mavu campaign (one tender mango tree for each house), identification of best cultivars from respective panchayats and establishment of 'gene-pools' at a selected farmer's farmland, building up public opinion against the destructive branch cutting habit, and so forth. Lakshminarayana Hegde looked so overwhelmed that he has announced that the next year's festival would be held again in the same venue.
Though appe midi pickle making itself is widespread in this part of Karnataka, the market potential for non-pickle value addition of tender mango has not yet realised by local farmers. G Prabhakara, a local farmer had prepared some samples of sweet juice concentrate, jam, dried mango powder, dried mango scrapings etc ., - all made from this tender mango- the appe midi. These products have a distinct flavour and taste. With good product standardisation and promotion, these products will click outside Karnataka too. Appe huli concentrate, dindina gojju concentrate, chutney are some other products that will have larger consumer acceptance outside - if the market is explored seriously.
One message the Midi Mavu 07 festival has given is this: By growing appe midi crop at their own lands, farmers can achieve two goals in one go. First, conserving the invaluable genetic wealth. Second: though the gestation period would be more, once it starts giving stabilised yield, with zero attention, it can support their families economically.