Rahul, the mango man

Jarda, Langda, Bambaiya, Cipiya Sukul, Bathua, Mithua, Fazli, Chausa, Krishnabhog…Many of us who are not from the hinterland of Bihar will not recognise that these are names of local varieties of Mangoes, prized for their distinctiveness and loved by the locals.

“Cipiya has a better shelf life, Sukul is the one you like to dig your teeth into and then suck the juice besides its best suited for pickles while Mithua as the name implies is the sweetest of them all,” says Rahul Singh (24), a mango grower of Namidih (24°40’18″N   84°28’27″E) village in Vaishali district of Bihar. Those who can’t think beyond Alphonsos, Bainganpallis, Dasheris et al may not agree. Each his/her taste, as it’s said. For there is nothing called as ‘common’ taste.

Twenty-four-year–old Rahul, a M.Tech, is recipient of Krishi Yuva Samman 2015, awarded by the Mahindra Samriddhi India Agri Award for reviving his four-decade old mango orchard using the Canopy Management Technique resulting in increased yield. The Agri Award which is in its fifth year recognises the innovation undertaken by farmers in increasing yields and adopting new technologies. Sadly, it hardly gets any media coverage. In fact, the organisers this year inserted a full page ad in The Times of India.Remember these are the farmers who feed us.

Rahul Singh
Rahul Singh

Village Nimidih is 40kms from the capital city of Bihar, Patna. Here the Singh’s own 30 acres of land in which they have a mango orchard in 7 acres, litchi in three acres and the rest they grow paddy and vegetables. Rahul’s father, Jitendra is the sole custodian of the family’s land as the other male members of the joint family have moved to the cities, taking up government jobs. In fact, you’re likely to come across such stories in Vaishali—of people abandoning farming as returns are low and preferring to be sarkari babus assured they are of their monthly salary. “I have been taking care of our land since the last 15 years growing paddy for our consumption and selling the rest in the market,” says 54-year-old Jitendra.

In many parts of the country, senile unproductive orchards of seedling origin continue to stand. These orchards with unmanageable canopy neither produce fruits nor the quality. Besides, they act as sources of pest and disease. Canopy management is the manipulation of tree canopy to optimize the production of quality fruits. It encompasses both training and pruning which affect the quantity of sunlight intercepted by trees, as tree shape determines the exposure of leaf area to incoming radiation. An ideal training strategy centers around the arrangement of plant parts, especially, to develop a better plant architecture that optimizes the utilization of sunlight and promotes productivity.

In 2012 July Rahul, an alumnus of Jaipur’s Gyan Vihar University, began the process of Canopy Management on the four-decade old mango trees under the guidance of National Horticulture Mission. He followed the three principles:

  • Formation of strong frame work having branches on all directions with near equidistance between branches
  • Developing the canopy with centre opened so that it gets better exposure to sunlight
  • Controlling the stature/size of the plant to harness the maximum productivity

Two year later, Rahul’s mango yield jumped from 4000kg/acre to 10,000 kg/acre attracting the attention of the jury of Mahindra Samriddhi Award resulting in him winning the Krishi Yuva Samman’s Regional Award (East Zone). Reminiscences Rahul’s father, “Every year when he came home on vacation he tried new methods to increase yield and has even gone for high density plantation, planting 160 mango saplings in a acre, compared to the old orchard which has barely 40 plants.”

Rahul suggests that pruning of the plants be conducted only once in three years, immediately after post harvest. With seven varieties of mangoes the harvesting begins in the month of June and continues till mid-August. “After pruning the plants I spray them with a fungicide. In July and November he plies the plants with vermicompost and neem cake. “While vermicompost works as a fertilizer the nitrogen-rich neem cake also prevents pests, “says Rahul.

Asked whether he would continue to do farming considering he completed his MTech degree in 2014, he says, “I have still to make up my mind. Presently, I am enjoying farming.”

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