A mango for all seasons
doi:10.1038/nindia.2021.90 Published online 23 June 2021
If there is one fruit wedded to a season, it is the mango. Summer is mango season across India and debate rages unfailingly every year from Uttar Pradesh to Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra to Bengal, on the best variety. Regional mango pride is a thing.
But the desert state of Rajasthan may just steal the mango show in years to come. For it is here that an Alphonso-like mango is in season — even off-season, as it were.
A species grown by an innovative farmer in a village in the Kota district of the state has the scientific community abuzz — Kishan Suman’s mango trees bear fruit throughout the year.
“Sadabahar (perennially blooming) was the best name I could think of,” Suman, from the Girdharpura village says.
Suman planted 1,500 grafts last year and has 330 plants of various sizes now. Each plant yields around 250 mangoes on an average. Most grow up to a height of 10-15 feet.
Watching his grandfather grafting plants in a farm near Kota, Suman learnt how to join two plants into one combining characteristics of both. “My family has always been in farming so this came naturally to me,” the 55-year-old told Nature India.
Though he wanted to study agriculture science when he grew up, financial constraints forced him out of school in Class 11. Working on the field, Suman experimented with cereals such as wheat, maize, jowar, even rice, but realised that the “efforts were not commensurate with the returns”.
“I was looking for something that wouldn't be affected by the vagaries of climate or require harmful chemicals.” He tried to grow vegetables but that too “did not give me any satisfaction”.
Roses were next. He used his childhood grafting skills to successfully farm roses and sold the flowers. During one of his grafting experiments, he pleasantly discovered that a local variety yielded different colours from a single plant.
Elated, Suman says he started researching to hone his grafting skills and turned his attention to mangoes. "I started looking for a way in which I could get the tree to fruit every year,” Suman says.
A mango tree bears fruits every year for the first 10 years, then only in alternate years for four to five months.
Suman's decade-long experiment literally bore fruit when in 2000 his mango plants started flowering even in winter. He isolated the plant and planted a graft. To his surprise the grafted plant started flowering and bearing fruits throughout the year.
This was the beginning of his success story. He approached local scientists but their support was tepid. His outreach to the scientific community resulted in a team from Bengaluru visiting his farm. Finally, it was an interaction with experts at the National Innovation Foundation-India that opened the doors of marketing.
Now demand is up. “Even people from the US want the plants. But because of restrictions on exporting plants, I cannot send these out of the country,” says Suman. A two-year-old plant more than a feet tall fetches Rs 1,700, a five-year-old plant that has started flowering and bearing fruits is priced at Rs 5,000.
“Interestingly, a dwarf variety can be grown even in earthen pots,” Suman says.
Hardev Choudhary, scientist at the National Innovation Foundation (NIF) says the mango variety has good potential. The NIF is an autonomous arm of the Indian government’s department of science and technology tasked to identify and promote innovations at the grassroots.
“I have been a part of this mango project since 2013. We did a proper scientific evaluation and facilitated validation. We reviewed the claims from a scientific perspective and finally helped him get the variety registered,” Choudhary told Nature India.