Is there a mango to rival the numero uno position Alphonso has achieved?
Many lovers of this variety of Mangifera Indica, grown in the red soil of Maharashtra’s Konkan region, that too in Devgad and Ratnagiri may baulk at the question but there is one that has all the attributes of Hapus but for its size. It has been around for two decades now and yet kept a secret among the orchard owners of Navsari and its neighbourhood. If you’re a mango aficionado and try acquiring a dozen you’ll know that it is a difficult task. As Navsari-based horticulturist Ankush Patel tells me last year he after a lot of efforts could lay his hands on a handful of saplings.
In fact, it has remained limited to Gujarat but for some aberration like one Janardan Waghere, a Nashik Zilla Parishad Health Deptt employee who also doubles as a mango grower and is a diehard Sonpari fan.
Sonpari rarely reaches the market. Considered a family jewel, they are shared among families and acquaintances of orchard owners.
Alphonso has an unparalleled, unique flavour and aroma. Its magnificent colour-deep orange saffron flesh with sweet delectable taste makes Mumbaikars and Puneites salivate once the news of its maiden harvest is announced in the media.
Arguably the world’s best mango, Alphonso is on the decline in the coastal belt of the state, where most of it is grown. In Ratnagiri alone, it is cultivated on 65,000 hectares. Climate change and unsustainable cultivation practices are slowly but surely taking their toll in the form of repeated pest attacks, destroyed flowers and large scale fruit shedding. For farmers, this means spiralling cultivation costs and plunging returns.
A premium cultivar of mango, Alphonso constitutes more than 60% of the mango being exported from India. is in great demand globally. Lately, it has suffered a major setback from “spongy tissue” (ST), a physiological internal breakdown disorder. Fruits affected by this disorder do not show any external symptoms and the malady is detected only after cutting the fruits open, posing a challenge for quality control. ST is higher in the coastal Konkan region of Maharashtra than in other inland regions of India.
Being a delicate mango crop that fruits once in two years, too hot or too cold weather disrupts flowering and impacts production. Largest scale government-propelled Alphonso monoculture since the 1990s has led to the near-total disappearance of several other local mango varieties like Raiwal and Payari. Dwindling Payari cultivation this year led to a dozen notching a price of Rs 2,000.
Alphonso is a grafted hybrid, but due to the disappearance of Raiwal, the preferred rootstock, Alphonso is grafted on Alphonso. Its popularity has replaced the traditional mix of orchard crops like coconut, areca nut, cashew, and fruits like karvand, making farmer economies heavily Alphonso dependent and vulnerable.
So loved is Alphonso that plant breeders since the Seventies have been putting their efforts to make a hybrid—a fruit closest to one the Portuguese colonists gifted us.
It began with Ratna, a hybrid from the cross of Alphonso and Neelum; Sindhu, a hybrid progeny derived by backcrossing Ratna and Alphonso; Konkan Ruchi, a hybrid from the cross between Neelum and Alphonso; PKM-2 from the parentage Neelum and Alphonso; Al Fazli from the parentage Alphonso and Fazli; Arka Aruna, a hybrid between Banganapalli and Alphonso; Arka Puneet, a hybrid between Alphonso and Banganapalli; Arka Anmol, a hybrid from a cross of Alphonso and Janardhan Pasand; and Arka Neelkiran, a hybrid between Alphonso and Neelum; Neelphonso, a hybrid of Neelam and Alphonso. Interestingly all these hybrid varieties are not victims of spongy tissue disorder and unlike Alphonso regular bearers.
In recent years, a new variety of mango, named Konkan Samrat, has been introduced which is a hybrid between Alphonso and a non-native variety, Tommy Atkins of Mexico.
In the year 2000, the Gujarat Mango Hybrid-1 (GMH-1) was released from Agriculture Experimental Station, Paria in Navsari and later given the name, Sonpari. This mango hybrid was developed by taking Alphonso as a female parent and Baneshan as a male parent. The trees of Sonpari are vigorous in growth, have dense foliage of lanceolate leaves with sub-erect branches which gives the dense round canopy structure. Sonpari is a heavy yielder and regular in bearing. The fruits are obliquely oval in shape like Baneshan, big in size weighing 360–550g. The tree bears fruits singly. The fruit skin is smooth and becomes golden yellow in colour on ripening. The big-sized brown lenticels moderate densely spread on skin give a very characteristic look to the fruit. The peel is very thin and does not adhere to a pulp. The pulp is firm and fibreless, attractive golden yellow in colour with average pulp content of 75-77%. The taste is excellent and resembles that of Alphonso and very good for table purpose. The fruit has a good blend of sugars and acids which are desirable for consumer preference. The TSS is more than19.5% with lower acidity 0.18% and higher total sugars 14.46%. The keeping quality is very good and fruits remain in good condition for more than 10 days at room temperature. The fruits mature in the second week of June. The trees are free from mango malformation, shoot borer and mealybug. The fruits are free from spongy tissue disorder.
According to Janardan Waghere who has 25 other mango varieties growing in his orchard Sonpari is closest to what one gets out of Alphonso. “It can be grown in any type of soil unlike Alphonso which prefers the coastal belt of Maharashtra’s Konkan region,” says he. “I see a great future for it and would suggest people to grow it.”
Waghere has a handful of Sonparis which have fruited in the third year of planting. Each tree has given him 20 kg, unlike Alphonso which gives a mere 5kg on its maiden harvest. The largest of them weigh 750g.
Acquiring Sonpari saplings is not easy because nurseries rarely keep them. If you’re keen to have some, you need to log in to the Navsari Agriculture University portal and fill a form that is in Gujarati. And if you’re lucky to get the saplings you have to bring them from Paria, a village situated near Vapi in Valsad district of Gujarat.
Adds horticulturist, “Once relished Sonpari’s taste and aroma lingers for hours.”