...Mrs Rajeshwari and Mr Parameshwar are farming couple living in the village of Gonsar, located in the midst of lush evergreen forests, in the central Western Ghats of South India. Since the whole region is forested, local people are very much dependent on the various forest resources, especially trees, and have been trying to domesticate these in their farms, orchards and other forms of land types.


Parameshwar and Rajeshwari, who participated in the research, are one of many local families that have been trying to conserve several tree species and varieties on their farms for the last fifty years or so, by domesticating and cultivating them. Garcinia spp, Cinnamomum spp, Syzigium spp, Myristica spp, Mangifera indica and Artocarpus spp are a few to mention.


As Rajeshwari explains, “Our work is to look for the different varieties of mango grown in our orchard or in the wild and to pick those up during the fruiting season for making various recipes, to be eaten together with the main staple food: rice. These mango trees grow wild or are cultivated, but they are all local varieties, both sweet varieties and sour ones, which we use for making Tambli, Chutney, Gojju, Appehuli, Saasime, etc. We collect the young and immature fruits of mango that have a special aroma and that are of good keeping quality, and we preserve them for years to prepare the pickle. We use these varieties for table purposes or in making of ‘Rasayana’ a sweet dish with mango fruit along with Jaggery, coconut, salt and other ingredients.”


Like their fellow villagers, Parameshwar and Rajeshwari also use the fruit rind of Garcinia indica to prepare a soft drink and as a souring agent in preparing various recipes. Butter extracted from the seed is locally used as edible oil and has several medicinal properties. Fruit rind of Garcinia gummigutta is collected mainly for commercial sale, whereas the butter extracted from the seeds is used for frying sweet dishes or consumed with some dishes. Jack fruit and mango are additionally important fruit trees used for making recipes and several dishes.


Parameshwar, Rajeshwari and their family have more than one hundred species of native forest trees in their orchards and farms that have been domesticated over the years. These include 200 trees of Garcinia indica and 30 trees of Garcinia gummigutta, more than 500 trees of jack fruit and 600 mango trees. They have conserved four species of Garcinia and at least 55 varieties of mango (Mangifera indica). Ten varieties of mango are of locally important and threatened varieties. Along with other family members, Parameshwar and Rajeshwari are maintaining many native fruit trees even though they are not commercially important and do not give cash returns. Besides, they are promoting the conservation of many of these varieties by providing scions freely and grafting them free of cost to the trees of their neighbours, villagers and adjacent villagers. In fact, identifying elite varieties of mango and other species, conserving them through grafting and other techniques in nurseries, sharing or exchanging these plant materials with other farmers are all regular activities for these farmers.


Women’s and men’s roles in this process are well defined and complementary. As Rajeshwari states, “Men assist us in collecting the fruits at the stage of mature or immature fruiting. However, processing, preserving, making of the recipes, serving them to the family and relatives, friends or even during special occasions is done entirely by me and other female members of our family”. Regarding the propagation and cultivation aspects of the mango tree, she says, “we (women) do not have much role to play in raising of the plants, purchasing mango plants or cultivating them. What we do is assist men in watering, sometimes weeding, and driving away the monkeys that come to eat the mango fruits when men are engaged in other agriculture activities in different locations. Unlike our husbands, we do not help other farmers graft special varieties of mango; however we do exchange the fruits with other women from neighbouring households in the village.”


Research undertaken in Gonsar, Kalgadde-Kanchigadde and Salkani villages of the Central Western Ghats in India brought to light the gender-specific knowledge, skills, management and conservation practices related to NFTs. A combination of participatory methods such as resource mapping and activity calendars revealed women’s exclusive knowledge of NFTs for domestic use and home gardening that is illustrated above, as well as men’s knowledge of NFT silviculture. Using innovative tools that promote collective learning, such as four cell analysis, women and men brought forth their knowledge about the current status of various NFTs, many of which are threatened species and varieties, and all of which need to be managed in a sustainable way both in the forest and on cultivated lands. The research activities highlighted the pressing need to conserve the 25 fruit tree species and several varieties of wild mango present in the study area, and demonstrated that traditional gendered knowledge of these species is essential for achieving this. Value addition and marketing of some of these species, based on women’s traditional fruit processing knowledge, are being supported to provide livelihood benefits and additional incentives for conservation.

Find the original blog at this website: http://www.wca2014.org/native-fruit-trees-of-life-and-livelihoods/(external link)

Empowering women as experts of tropical fruit diversity, is a program by Bioversity International Gender Research Fellowship Program, funded by the CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry.

Photo: Local women involved in the participatory research on Tropical Fruit Trees

Blogpost by Narasimha Hegde, Gender Fellow, LIFE Trust (Sirsi, India) – lifetrusts(at)gmail.com

Photo by Srinivas