Kodagu district is known for its exceptional biodiversity and though it is a major coffee growing region located in the Western Ghats with more than 50 percent of the agricultural land essentially coffee estates, native crops like pepper, cardamom, orange and rice are equally famous. The dense forest cover that spreads across more than half of this district contributes significantly to the unique taste, aroma and quality of the produce grown in this belt.
Coorg orange known locally as Kodagina kittale is an unusual ecotype of mandarin that thrives in this mountainous region. Though this variety of orange (Citrus reticulata) is also cultivated in Hassan, Shimoga and Chikmagalur districts of Karnataka, the oranges grown in Coorg have a distinctive taste and juiciness.
According to the locals, this variety of orange was introduced during the British Raj (roughly 160 years ago). The duration and intensity of rainfall in Coorg and surrounding areas, hilly terrain, thick green cover, climatic conditions and well-drained soil rich in organic matter is conducive for the cultivation of this indigenous orange.
Coorg orange is greenish yellow in colour, medium-sized with a tight skin. It is deliciously juicy and has a tangy taste with an excellent blend of sugar and acid. It has a vibrant orange pulp rich in medicinal and nutritional value.
Unfortunately, the famed Coorg oranges are very sensitive to fluctuations in the weather. Excessive rainfall affects the fruit drop which thereby affects the yield. Oranges are grown mainly as an intercrop in coffee estates in North Kodagu. They are grown exclusively in only about 3 to 4 acre orchards in South Kodagu. Cultivation has come down drastically from 20,000 hectares to just about 1,000 hectares now. Farmers say that this orange is not sufficiently disease-resistant and many of them have now shifted to cash crops like pepper and cardamom. Efforts are being undertaken under the National Horticulture Mission to revive the cultivation of this sweet mandarin.
This hill fruit crop received the Geographical Indication Tag (GI) in 2006.
Written by Lakshmi Subramanian
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