From September to December, Paraguay’s capital, Asuncion, is a riot of colour, with yellow or reddish mangoes hanging from trees and lapacho trees displaying purple or white flowers.
But until a few years ago, those splendid colours were also an annoyance, meaning that the streets would soon be littered with the remains of millions of mangoes as the trees dropped their fruits.
Tonnes of mangos were sent to the Cateura dump on the city’s outskirts. Street cleaners would collect up to 500 tonnes of mangoes in a week.
There seemed to be no use for the fruit, partly because of a lack of infrastructure to transport and process it, partly because of a lack of knowledge about the health benefits of the mango, which is rich in vitamins. In fact, the fruit even had a bad reputation due to the mistaken belief that it wasn’t unhealthy.
That idea is now changing, Asuncion residents say.
Municipal cleaning services were fed up with having to deal with the rotting mangoes when a programme called Mango Movil (Mobile Mango) was launched in late 2016.
“The Mango Movil has a fleet of trucks driving through all the neighbourhoods of Asuncion to collect mangoes that have been left on the streets,” said Domitila Benitez, co-ordinator of the campaign
The initial campaign to collect mangoes was enlarged to include an agreement with some private institutions and non-governmental organisations to select the best mangoes and distribute them to prisons, educational centres and other institutions.
The Ministry of Industry and Commerce even has plans to start exporting mangoes to the European Union.
“We have sent them samples, but no agreement has been sealed so far,” Benitez told dpa.
Almost every house in Paraguay has a tree, giving its inhabitants mangoes for free, but in Europe, the fruit can fetch about 5 dollars a kilogramme. The mango is also considered an exotic fruit in China, where it was recently selling for up to 35 dollars per kilogramme.
Paraguay is not yet exporting mangoes, but local entrepreneurs have plans to sell them to Taiwan and South Korea, government official Nelson Farina told the online news portal Ultima Hora in December.
The surging interest in mangoes raises hopes of job creation and better nutrition in Paraguay, where 10 per cent of its 6.5 million residents did not get enough to eat in 2016, according to UN data.
Part of Mango Movil’s income will also be invested in professional training courses for low-income people at a local gastronomy school.
The Mango Movil programme has also yielded the production of mango chutney, a typical condiment in Indian cuisine that private companies in Paraguay produce and put on shelves across the nation.
Chef Rodolfo Angenscheidt recommends eating the chutney, which combines the mangoes with onions, honey, green apples, cinnamon and cumin, as an accompaniment to any kind of meat, “be it chicken, red meat, cheese,” the newspaper 5 Dias quoted him as saying.
The city of Aregua, about 30 kilometres from Asuncion, now celebrates a mango festival, at which a variety of salty and sweet dishes based on the juicy fruit are served, such as chicken cutlets with mango.
Mango was cultivated in India as early as 6,000 years ago and was travelled on Portuguese ships to Brazil in the 18th century and spread to other countries in the America.
South America is now one of the world’s main regions where mangoes grow, in countries including Brazil, Peru, Venezuela and Colombia. – DPA