Mango : The King of Fruits

Hiuen Tsang, after being in India is going back. Time AD 627-643, on the fabled Silk Route. Apart from his knowledge of Buddhism, his rucksack contains an extraordinary fruit called Mango.

The name in hindi AAM is derived from Sanskrit word AMRA which seems to be the loan from Dravidian and is related to Tamil words for Mango like “mamaram”. Portuguese were responsible for transferring the name to the West. It is growing in India since 4000 years at least.

Moguls were great connoisseurs of the fruit. Akbar got 100000 mango trees in Lakhi Bagh near Darbhanga Bihar. Others who relished the fruit were Shahjahan and Noor Jehan, Aurangzeb, Sher Shah Suri. Raghunath Peshwa got large numbers all over Maharashtra.

Main Constituents:

Citric acid and related compounds are responsible for sour taste. Several terpenes have been found in unripe fruit..

Ripe mango contains volatile compounds like alpha terpineol, ocimene, limonene, 3-carene etc. Yellow colour is due to beta Carotene.

Nutrients

Mangoes are rich in potassium, about 8% carbohydrate with 1.6 % dietary fibre. Very rich in vitamin A , C, B-6, calcium, iron, and magnesium.

Some famous Indian Varieties:

1: Alphonso or Hapoos
King among the mangoes. Named after Portugal admiral D Afonso de Albuquerque. Deogad in Ratnagiri district of Maharashtra has got the GI tag of genuineness.

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2: Dasehri
It is birth place is Malihabad in Lucknow. Soft, succulent and mild.

3: Banarasi Langda
It was born in an orchard belonging to a Langda (lame) fellow and thus got this name.

4: Himsagar
Fibre less, creamy and full of pulp. Pride of Murshidabad in West Bengal.

5: Fazli
Quite big in size, famous in Malda of West Bengal. Late maturing.

6: Chaunsa:
From Bihar. Full of Flavour. It is pressed into mouth and juice is sucked.

7: Gulab Khaas
Native of Jharkhand. It is graceful mango

8: Kesar

Aromatic fruit of Junagadh Gujarat. Giving a tough fight to Hapoos. Plantations are on foothills of mount Girnar.

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9: Bedmi: Taste depends upon the plucking time.

10. Totapuri: it is abundant in southern states of Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka.

11: Sindoori: it gets its name from the vermillion colour of the skin.

12: Banganapalli/ Bagan Phali/ Safeda
From Andhra’s small town Banganapalli. Sweet, yellow and fibre less.

13: Himam Pasand/ Humayun Pasand
A cross made from Banganapalli and Malgoa. It is very popular in Deccan.

14: Chandrakaran: it is delicacy from Kerala. Sweet and sour. Quite costly.

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Revival of local rice varieties

In order to increase the yield of rice to meet the needs of food in the country, high yield laboratory engineered rice varieties also called hybrid varieties have replaced the local varieties which yield less all over the country. Many areas like Punjab and Haryana in North India which were not rice growing areas have become the major rice growers. This though has helped the Green Evolution and commercialised the farming, has played havoc by excessive water drainage from the underground and contamination of water by heavy metals present in the fertilisers and insecticides which cause many diseases. But the white or polished rice that whole of our country people have become accustomed to have less beneficial nutrients and more starch which increases the risk of diseases like diabetes.

Some farmers in the rice growing West Bengal are trying to reverse this trend by resorting to grow the local varieties which despite being low yielding have nutritional value which more than compensate the low yield. One such farmer is Bhairav Saini who lives in Bankura, about 200 km from Kolkata.

For several years now,  he and many farmers are engaged in this task in many districts of West Bengal. Growing the rice by traditional methods without use of fertilisers and insecticides, in fact this also lowers the cost of growing the crops.

Saini, and several others in Hooghly, Dinajpur and 24 South Parganas, in West Bengal, have been engaged in reviving lost, indigenous paddy varieties of Bengal, simply because they’re cognizant of the health benefits of grains grown the traditional way. Burdwan, the rice bowl of Bengal now grows organic Gobindobhog rice in over 30,000 hectares of land. Besides Gobindobhog, other old varieties of scented rice like Radhatilak, Kalonunia, Kalojeera, Tulsimukun etc are also gaining popularity slowly. These have a high mineral and vitamin content along with other health benefits.

Unlike his peers in North India, Saini is not driven by profit making but due to his concern for the health issues of the people. As the times are changing and organic products are a buzz word, the rice they are now growing have started fetching higher prices. Some of the local varieties they are reviving have names like Kala Bhaat, Bohurupee, Leelabati, Durga bhog, Oli, Radhunipagol, Kalo nunia, Katari bhog, Radha tilak, Kalash and so on. Setting up the seed banks is also an important endeavour.

Inputs from an article published in the Economics Times of India.

Is Collective Wisdom always Correct?

At the starting point of human evolution timeline, the progress was very slow and full of dangers. Learning was at the cost of many human lives. In the beginning, man was a hunter and did not have a stable life. He was always on the move because animals which he hunted were also capable of running. Life of hunting was not easy.
They were on lookout for more stable life. To be able to stay put at one place. For this, humans had to enable themselves replace their diet with grains and cereals which could be grown near their abodes. As we know there must had been plenty of vegetation all around. But today we know that all of it is not suitable for animal consumption. Plants have been here from the beginning and since they could not move from one place to another to defend themselves, their defense mechanism was already in place for survival. As a result only a few of the plants are useful.
Humans did not know what was good for eating and what was not good. It was all a hit and trial process with some of them scarifying their lives. But with the passage of time, information begun to build up and thus the present generation was better equipped than the previous one. Now we have reached a stage where a huge treasure of knowledge is at our disposal.
So have we become so wise and knowledgeable that we cannot commit mistakes? The answer is sadly no. we are committing mistakes. One reason is that we work in groups with members having all shades of knowledge. Thus the resultant knowledge is averaging out.
Take for example the green revolution in the North India particularly Punjab. It saved the masses of the country from starvation. There was a great scarcity of the food grains. India was dependent on the mercy of the countries like USA and USSR. Green Revolution introduced the modified varieties of wheat and rice which have high yields. The state increased the production so much that it was able to feed all the country with food grains.
But the real results of that exercise are now becoming evident. The land was drained of all the nutrients. It was not kept any time fallow to regain the natural strength. The result was the increased use of fertilizers and insecticides. The water footprint was very high for the production of these crops. Since the river water was not sufficient, the underground was exploited up indiscriminately. Since the quality control during manufacturing was poor, many heavy metals which are very toxic slowly made their way to underground drinking water. The water table went deeper. The disastrous effects are now visible in the form of many fatal diseases affecting the children in the Punjab.
On the other hand, there were negative effects elsewhere which disturbed the equilibrium. The states like Kerala, Tamil Nadu and West Bengal which were naturally suited for rice production stopped or tried to change the crop patterns with negative results. So it seems that for short term Green Revolution was a blessing but in the long run it was a collective failure.

Arsenic Poison in Drinking Water

Drinking water is hardly available to most of the poor population in the developing or under-developed countries. Water contaminated with bacteria, virus and dissolved ions in excessive amounts causes so many disease. Contamination of water can be natural or man induced. The reason for the contamination of water is that water is a universal solvent. It leaches so many chemical compounds when rocks are exposed to it. Secondly, water makes up more than 70% of the area available on the Earth surface. Life began in the water. So many reactions necessary for the growth and reproduction of life use water as the medium. So it is host to so many bacteria and viruses responsible for diseases.

Countries like Bangladesh and many parts of India where lots of water becomes stagnant in ponds and shallow wells face the problems caused by water contamination. Due to poverty and lack of resources, people are forced to drink the water from open ponds and contract the life threatening diseases. Administration then dug deep wells in search of germ free water. But this gave rise to another even more serious problem: the problem of arsenic poisoning. In the Bangladesh and parts of West Bengal adjacent to Bangladesh, there is lot of arsenic dissolved in water.

Similarly when such water is used to irrigate the paddy, the rice is contaminated with arsenic and finds its way to the stomachs because the rice is the staple food of Asia. When Hussam discovered that his own relatives—who live in a district of more than half a million people in a part of Bangladesh called kushtia—had been drinking arsenic laced water, he decided to find a solution. in 1997, he started measuring the water’s arsenic content and developing a filtration system that could remove the toxic arsenic species pumped from tube wells. Hussam and colleagues made a prototype filter that uses two buckets piled on top of each other. Water is first poured into the topmost bucket, and then it passes through a special material called a  composite iron matrix, which is a mixture of iron and iron hydroxide. Manganese in the matrix catalyzes the transformation of the more toxic arsenite to arsenate ions. these ions bind to the surface of iron hydroxide particles.

Now this contraption has been made into a filter which is placed on the tuebwell and the output water is free from arsenic. The arsenic poisoning cases have reduced and many patients been cured and regained the health by eating more protein rich food along with arsenic free water.