One Village in India Has Over 100 Varieties of Mangoes

A mango tree laden with fruit.

In Kannapuram, you will find hundreds of varieties of mangoes. (Image: Vladimir Melnik via Dreamstime)

Mangoes are tropical fruit popular in countries such as India. In fact, in different states of India, you will come across delicious varieties of fruit. Indians eat the fruit in many ways, including raw, ripened, and pulped. They also use it in various cuisines.

While it is common to find many mango variants harvested in one state of India, it is rare to come across a village where hundreds of varieties of fruits are grown. However, this has been achieved in the village of Kannapuram in Kerala’s Kannur district of India.

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Kannapuram: Indigenous Mango Heritage Area

In Kannapuram, you will find hundreds of varieties of mangoes. Even more impressive is that the village has a tract of land called Kuruvakkavu, where 102 varieties are grown within just 3,230 square feet. The villagers are known as ‘Naattumaanjottil,’ which translates into ‘Under a mango tree.’

On July 22, 2020, ‘National Mango Day,’ Kerala’s Biodiversity Board identified Kannapuram village as an ‘Indigenous Mango Heritage Area.’ The credit for this recognition goes to 20 local families, led by Shyju Machathi, a police officer in his 40s.

Shyju Machathi has been very fond of mangoes since he was a child. He fondly recalls spending time in mango orchards tasting mango variants locally. Shyju said: “During the mango season, eating, collecting, and distributing different varieties was my hobby,” he says. “It was when mangoes were not commercially available, and we ate whatever was available locally.”

Shyju Machathi is beside one of his community’s many mango trees.
Shyju Machathi is beside one of his community’s many mango trees. (Image: Shyju Machathi)

The ‘Johnny Appleseed’ of mangoes

Shyju’s parents cultivate rice, but he has no formal background in farming. His foray into mango variety conservation began in 2016 when a friend alerted him that a 200-year-old mango tree bearing the fruit of the rare, sweet “Vellatha” variety was being cut down.

“Even though I reached there only the next day along with a friend from the agricultural department, we were able to obtain close to 50 [cuttings] which we grafted and propagated successfully,” says Shyju.

He added, “Even though I reached there only the next day along with a friend from the agricultural department, we were able to obtain close to 50 [cuttings] which we grafted and propagated successfully.” Later he gave the cuttings to the community, and a regional news channel broadcasted his mission to save the variety. This was the beginning of his journey in preserving mango variants.

“From kids to senior citizens, people came forward to collect many pieces of the fallen tree, and together we grafted them,” Shyju says. In addition, the group remained active in identifying and preserving as many varieties as possible.

In 2017, Shyju and his group collected and documented three dozen indigenous mango varieties with the assistance of the agricultural department. He also held an event highlighting the need to preserve indigenous mango species.

By 2020, with help from 20 families in the village, he identified over 100 varieties by analyzing features such as color, taste, the thickness of outer skin, fiber content, pulp characteristics, and the shape of the leaves. Before this, locals had no idea there were so many varieties of mangoes in Kannapuram.

A community event in Kannapuram with many varieties of mangoes.
A community event in Kannapuram with many varieties of mangoes. (Image: Shyju Machathi)

Expert help

Dr. Joseph John,  a former Principal Scientist at the National Bureau of Plant Genetic Resources (NBPGR) Regional Station, Thrissur, advised Shyju to take a more scientific approach by documenting each variety using photographs and 3-5 characteristics, such as taste, color, and fiber content.

With Dr. John’s advisement, Shyju and his group eventually documented nearly 150 varieties. These varieties have not only been added to the gene pool of NBPGR but have been distributed and successfully propagated in different state districts.

In addition to broadening the range of varieties of mangoes available in India, the conservation and distribution of native varieties within the country help lessen harmful pesticides use.

“These varieties are pest, disease resistant, and well adapted to the local climatic conditions,” says Dr. John. “We have already lost a considerable portion of our mango biodiversity due to indiscriminate rubber cultivation in the state. Therefore, it is important to preserve whatever we have today by supporting such [conservation] efforts.”

Shyju continues to work on identifying indigenous species, propagating them, and conducting chemical analyses of select varieties. He hopes people will value and enjoy the local flavors rather than opting for commercially grown varieties.

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