Custodians of rare mango trees aim to increase returns for spice produced from fruit

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Amchur, a spice made from unripe mangos, has high potential to increase incomes for tribal farmers who conserve a rare mango tree on their land. CGIAR’s Nature-Positive Solutions Initiative, partners and farmers are collaborating on new market strategies.

By: Eleonora De Falcis, Scientist I, Bioversity for Food and Agriculture Lever, Alliance Bioversity International and CIAT; Utkarsh Ghate, Thematic Expert (Ecology), BAIF Development Research Foundation; and Visvadew V S, Senior Project Officer, BAIF Development Research Foundation

CGIAR’s Initiative on Nature-Positive Solutions (NATURE+) applies a holistic approach to support farming communities in conserving and valuing local agrobiodiversity. One strategy the Initiative supports is market development for local crops with fair value chains that try to retain a higher value of the product on the farm and benefit the communities that have conserved rare crops.

Rare crops are in the minority and face threats due to market demands that prioritize a handful of high-productivity crops. However, unique taste, high nutritional content, and the typicality of these products are increasingly sought after by consumers. Meeting this demand can help diversify production systems and preserve traditions linked to local production.

Achieving this goal involves overcoming challenges along the production chain, including market distance, consumer awareness, food standards, and coordination among value chain actors. Often, this requires prioritizing strategies and implementing a step-by-step approach.

India is one of five countries where NATURE+ is being implemented, alongside Kenya, Colombia, Vietnam, and Burkina Faso. In India, specifically in Shahada district, the identified business strategy involves reinforcing the value chain for local mango varieties through the production of amchur, a popular condiment made from dried, sliced, unripe mango.

What is amchur?

Indians may probably want to skip this part but for the rest of the world, amchur is a not-so-known spice like cumin or turmeric. Amchur is a popular condiment in India, known for its sour and pungent taste. The powder is valued for its tangy, fruity flavor, which adds a distinct sourness to dishes. The name “amchur” comes from the Hindi words “aam” (mango) and “choor” (powder), a traditional processing of the fruit to make it available throughout the year.

Making amchur involves several steps. First, unripe green mangoes are harvested when they are still firm and sour. Then, the mangoes are peeled and sliced into thin pieces, a crucial step as it impacts the drying process and the quality of the final product. Next, the slices are laid out to dry in the sun. Quick drying helps preserve the white color of the slices and prevents oxidation, which can reduce quality. The drying process typically takes around three days. Once dried, the mango slices are ground into a fine powder, which is then packaged for sale.

Local varieties of mango trees in Shahada, June 2024. Credit: Eleonora De Falcis.

The quality of amchur is determined by several factors. Whiter amchur is considered higher quality, indicating better preservation during drying. The flavor should be strong and tangy without any bitterness, and the texture should be fine and free from lumps or impurities.

Amchur is a versatile spice used in a variety of Indian dishes. It adds a sour note to both vegetarian and non-vegetarian curries, enhances the tanginess in chutneys and pickles, and is used in marinades. Amchur is not only a flavorful spice but also offers several health benefits as it is rich in antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals. The main markets are in the north of India, but it is also consumed in central and south regions.

Amchur in Nandurbar

In Nandurbar, the district where Shahada is located, mango is one of the three most cultivated fruits, along with papaya and banana. Amchur production is popular and part of the local tradition. Many tribal communities in this region have mango trees (about 10 per farmer), which are cultivated organically and rely entirely on rainfed agriculture. These communities grow local varieties of mangoes, known as desi (local) mangoes. Amchur production is a key source of income for these communities, which rely mainly on agriculture. Mango trees are harvested before the kharif season, and the income from amchur is often used to buy crop inputs and other household goods.

Ninety percent of the farming in this region is dryland, and the lack of irrigation makes life dependent on farming during the monsoon season (June-October) and non-timber forest products (NTFP) in the winter-summer season. Among these, amchur is the most significant, followed by Mahua and other NTFPs like Chironji (Cuddapah Almond). Therefore, amchur production bridges farmers’ year-round livelihoods and its sale acts as a form of “credit” for local communities.

Production relies on traditional methods. Women cut mangoes with traditional knives with sharp blades made of iron, often leading to injuries. Iron also increases the oxidation process of the mangoes. The slices are often sun dried in open air, often leading to contamination and inconsistent quality of the product.

In terms of the value chain, production in Nandurbar stops at the stage of dried mango slices. The final processing into amchur powder and packaging is done elsewhere, usually near main cities like Indore. In Nandurbar, dried mango slices are sold in bulk by traders or vendors, resulting in an imbalance of information about the end market and value, with missed opportunities for recapturing additional profit or simply accessing potential markets. Despite being popular in the area, dried mango slices are not widely consumed, and few shops sell them in small packages for domestic use.

Efforts have been made to value and promote amchur from this area based on its typicality and long-standing tradition. In fact, Nandurbar amchur has been granted geographical indication (GI) status. Yet, despite this recognition, the product lacks effective promotion among vendors and consumers, being sold only in bulk, making it indistinguishable from similar products produced elsewhere.

Farmers Producers Organization support sales

Different strategies can be implemented to reinforce the value chain and increase retained value for farmers in the area. One strategy implemented to enhance the value chain is the creation of Farmer Producer Organizations (FPOs). FPOs bring together numerous small-scale farmers, streamlining the production and sale of sliced dried mango. A primary benefit of the FPO is its ability to bring the product to market, saving transport costs for farmers, and providing storage space. By aggregating the product and managing storage, the FPO ensures that farmers can sell their produce at consistent prices avoiding distress sales, providing financial stability and predictability. Yet, as for local farmers, they focus solely on selling sliced dried mango, with the final processing into powder occurring in other regions, where consumption is higher as there are organizational costs, food standards requirements and competition to reach these markets.

FPO members in Shahada showing dried slices of mango, June 2024. Credit: Eleonora De Falcis

What to do then?

To promote amchur effectively, several steps could be taken. Leveraging the GI status through targeted marketing and branding efforts can raise awareness and demand for Nandurbar amchur. Acquiring detailed information on local and larger markets where amchur is consumed will help identify potential buyers and vendors. Enhancing hygiene, processing (drying), and packaging standards will improve the product’s appeal and safety, making it more competitive. Establishing stronger links with processors and vendors can streamline the value chain and ensure better returns for farmers. Finally, developing the capacity for small sales and direct consumer marketing will help capture more value locally, benefiting the communities that have long preserved and produced this unique product.

The value chain promotion strategy will, therefore, need to be holistic. Further steps and discussions with communities will be needed to decide on initial actions, priorities, and types of innovations that can be integrated into traditional methods. These innovations must fit social acceptance and ensure sustainability.

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