In India, the man who grows 300 varieties of mango

Malihabad (India) (AFP) – “Even in a desert I can grow mangoes”, launches Kaleem Ullah Khan. Every day, the eight-year-old Indian gets up at dawn, says his prayers and walks quietly about a kilometer to his huge 120-year-old mango tree.

Over the years, the old man managed to produce more than 300 varieties of mango with this single tree.

His steps quicken as he approaches and his eyes light up: he carefully watches the branches through his glasses, strokes the leaves and sniffs the fruits to see if they are ripe.

Here is my prize after decades of hard work under the burning sun”smiles the 82-year-old man in his orchard in the small town of Malihabad in Uttar Pradesh, a state in northern India.

“To the naked eye, it’s just a tree. But if you observe it with your mind, it is a tree, an orchard and the largest collection of mangoes in the world. »

After dropping out of school, Kaleem was just a teenager when he tried his first experiment of creating new varieties of mango by putting different plant parts together.

Bet won because the experience has literally paid off: seven new varieties produced from one and the same tree. But soon after, a storm blows these creations away.

Since 1987, he has concentrated his work, his pride and his joy on this majestic mango tree, source of more than 300 different types of the sweet fruit. Each has a particular taste, a particular texture, a particular color and a unique size, he explains.

He named one of his first varieties “Aishwarya”, referring to Aishwarya Rai Bachchan, winner of the Miss World 1994 beauty pageant, who became one of Bollywood’s biggest stars. To this day, she is still one of his “best creations”.

“The mango is as beautiful as the actress. A mango weighs over a kilo (two pounds), its outer skin has a light reddish-brown hue, and it tastes very sweet”describes Mr. Khan.

Others have been named in honor of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and cricket hero Sachin Tendulkar. Another one, “Anarkali”or pomegranate flower, has two different layers of skin and pulp, each with a distinctive aroma.

“People come and go, but mangoes will remain forever and even in years, every time this Sachin mango is eaten, people will remember the cricket hero”rejoices this father of eight children.

Robust luggage compartment

Nine meters tall, its precious tree has a sturdy trunk and broad, thick branches that provide pleasant shade against the Indian summer sun.

The leaves form a monochrome of different textures and smells. In some places they are yellow and shiny, and in others they are dark and dull green.

“Just as no two fingerprints are the same, no two varieties of mango are the same. Nature has endowed mangoes with characteristics similar to those of humans”he said.

His method, similar to a transplant, is complex. It involves carefully cutting off a branch of one variety, leaving an open wound into which a branch of another variety is spliced ​​and sealed with tape.

“I’ll remove the tape when the joint is solid and hopefully this new branch will be ready for next season and bear a new variety after two years”explains the old man.

Kaleem Ullah Khan’s skills have earned him several awards, including one of India’s highest civilian honors in 2008, as well as invitations to Iran and the United Arab Emirates.

Global warming

India is the world’s largest producer of mangoes and supplies half of the world’s production.

Malihabad, in the state of Uttar Pradesh, has more than 30,000 hectares of orchards and accounts for nearly 25% of the national harvest.

Owned in most cases by families for generations, orchards are a paradise for mango lovers, the most famous variety is probably the melt-in-the-mouth Dasheri, named after the nearby village where it appeared in the eighteenth century.

But farmers are worried about global warming, with this year’s heat wave destroying 90% of the local crop, according to the All-India Mango Growers Association.

The number of varieties has also decreased. Khan blames intensive farming techniques and the widespread use of cheap fertilizers and insecticides.

The trees are also planted too close together, so there is no room for moisture and dew to settle on the leaves, he explains.

His life is still beautiful, he wants to reassure.

“I recently moved into a new house inside the yard to be closer to my beloved tree, which I will continue to work on until my last breath”.

© AFP

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