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Reviving the famous `Coorg mandarin'

By K. Jeevan Chinnappa

CHETTALLI (KODAGU DT.), JAN. 24. Orange (mandarin) was synonymous with Kodagu district once, but diseases resulted in the famous "Coorg mandarin" to become almost extinct. The incomparable blend of the sweet and sour taste of "Coorg mandarin," grown in Kodagu as an inter-crop (with coffee), is now limited to a few orchards in the district. Not just orange but the entire range of fruits belonging to the citrus group has passed into history.

When the Australian virologist, Lilian Fraser, who visited the Central Horticultural Experiment Station (CHES) here in 1960, pointed out the prevalence of disease in Coorg oranges, she was not taken seriously. Ms. Fraser submitted a detailed report to the Centre saying that if steps were not taken immediately, the crop could be in danger. The merit of the advice was realised by the people very late.

Caution ignored

However, a view of the luscious oranges can be had at CHES. They are disease-free trees.

The Principal Scientist and Head of CHES, H. Ravishankar, said the station supplied 7,500 disease-free saplings to growers in 2004. "We can supply over one lakh saplings in the next five years, but it is not enough to meet the demand of growers," he said.

The caution of Ms. Fraser was taken lightly then; besides, there was lack of technology to tackle diseases. It was only in 1995 that CHES started developing the technology. There were instances of some estates producing up to 40 loads of oranges, each load containing up to 50,000 fruits. This has now been reduced to one load or less even in estates that have been maintained well, he said.

Remedy

Dr. Ravishankar said CHES could identify the diseases in orange and suggest corrective measures. But now the situation is beyond repair. Uprooting the affected plants is the only way of preventing the spread of the disease, he said. Planting a disease-free sapling and proper pest control management is the remedy suggested now.

"Greening disease," a bacterial affliction, and "Citrus Tristeza," a viral disease, played havoc on orange in Kodagu. There is no guarantee that diseases will not strike the plants after a few years. But unlike in the past, the diseases can be controlled with CHES providing brochures to the growers on the steps to be taken.

Kodagu oranges had a unique taste and longer shelf life, compared to other varieties, including the Nagpur variety, Dr. Ravishankar said. Oranges, though an inter-crop in Kodagu, needed good care. Diseases had destroyed orange crops in Brazil, Spain and some other countries, but timely steps have helped in reviving the crop. Growers in Kodagu are optimistic about such a thing happening in the district as well, Dr. Ravishankar said.

CHES has identified five growers each from the three taluks in the district to set up 15 demonstration plots with the State Government funding in 2003. They are being nursed well and should be yielding good results in the coming years, he said.

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