Some are as large as coconuts while others are as tiny as gooseberries. Some have the pleasant sweetness of cane sugar while others have the sharp tartness of tamarind. Some are bright red, others sport a dull pistachio hue. This is just a glimpse of the biodiversity of mango species found in the tiny village of Kannapuram, located in India’s Kannur district in the southern state of Kerala. The plethora of native mango varieties here is truly mind boggling.
With 207 indigenous varieties and counting, it rains mangoes in Kannapuram. In fact, Kuruvakkavu, a small area within Kannapuram, boasts a whopping 102 varieties among 382 trees, growing on a plot of just 300 square meters (3,230 square feet). On July 22, 2020—World Mango Day—the Kerala State Biodiversity Board declared Kuruvakkavu an Indigenous Mango Heritage Area. All this is thanks to the efforts of about 20 local families, led by 42-year-old police officer Shyju Machathi.
A resident of Kannapuram, Machathi nurtured a love for mangoes even as a child. Summer vacations meant climbing different mango trees, collecting the fruits and distributing them among family and neighbors. “During the mango season, eating, collecting, and distributing different varieties was my hobby,” he says. “It was a time when mangoes were not commercially available and we all ate whatever was available locally.”
Machathi’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 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 Machathi. Keeping just one for himself, he distributed the cuttings among the community so people could plant them and the variety could be preserved. Local news channels covered his mango rescue operation, which further inspired Machathi to identify and preserve other regional varieties.
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