Father-son trio reaps bumper mangosteen harvest; older trees yield 300 kg per season

Merlin Moothedan and his sons Midhun and Manu grow organic mangosteen in Thrissur. The produce from 800 trees is sold across India by air cargo. They also sell saplings from mother plants with direct lineage from Malaysia where the exotic fruit originated

Rashmi Pratap
New Update
Merlin Moothedan with his sons Midhun and Manu (left) and Midhun (right) at their farm in Pariyaram, Thrissur

Merlin Moothedan with his sons Midhun and Manu; and Midhun packing mangosteen at their farm in Pariyaram, Thrissur

Almost a hundred years back, Merlin Moothedan’s great-grandfather went to Malaysia for studies and then took up a job there. While coming back to India, he put some seeds of Malaysia’s local mangosteen fruit in his pocket and planted them on his farm at the Pariyaram village in the Thrissur district of Kerala. The tree grew and began yielding fruits but the family never thought of marketing them.

About 65 years later, when the family property had been divided over generations, one of his great-grandsons – Merlin – took mangosteen fruits from that tree and planted the seeds on his farm. 

“I put all the seeds in about one acre. Even though the villagers ridiculed me, my father (Jacob) encouraged me. The trees started fruiting after seven years,” recalls Merlin, now 66.

Today, Merlin’s five-acre organic farm is home to around 1,000 mangosteen trees of which 800 have reached the fruiting stage (over seven years old). The trees are inter-planted with coconut, nutmeg and other crops to maximize returns from land. 

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Merlin and his sons Midhun and Manu harvested 20 tonnes (20,000 kg) of mangosteen last year. The exotic fruit sells at Rs500 per kg at the beginning of the harvest season in April and wholesale prices drop to around Rs250 per kg by July.

Harvesting of mangosteen. Pic: MM Nursery and Farm

Good plants for good yields

“We have good mother plants with direct lineage from Malaysia. That’s why the produce is good,” says Merlin. 

The oldest and biggest plant, whose seed was sown by Merlin 35 years ago, yields around 350 kg of mangosteen every season. 

“About eight to ten trees on the farm give 250 to 300 kg of fruits per season while younger plants give 100 to 200 kg. The youngest fruiting trees, which are seven years old, produce around 4 kg in the first year and the yield almost doubles each season,” says Merlin.

His sons have also joined him in farming. “My brother and I started working on the farm four years back,” says Manu, a fitness trainer who runs a gym in a nearby town. He helps the family during the harvest season from April to July. 

Also Read: This engineer quit his job to grow exotic fruits; sells rambutan and mangosteen at Rs350 per kg

Midhun quit his job as an accountant to assist his father by taking up farming full-time. The brothers scaled up the sales and marketing of mangosteen, which Merlin sold for the first time at Rs60 per kg in Kochi over 20 years back. 

Merlin Moothedan with mangosteen saplings at MM Nursery. Pic: MM Nursery 

New-age marketing 

“My father was selling mangosteen to Verkys (now defunct supermarket chain based in Kerala). From there, people started learning about this exotic fruit, and we started getting buyers from across the state. Once we both joined, we began to put out about our products on social media and sales picked up,” says Manu.

“We now sell directly all over India by air cargo and wholesalers also come to the farm to purchase directly from us. Many of these are exporters,” says Manu.

Mangosteen is low in calories and fat, rich in fibre and antioxidants and has anti-inflammatory properties. “They are packed in 10 kg boxes, and the minimum order is ten boxes. Buyers pay for the cargo charges,” he points out.

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With a robust packaging and sales network, other farmers in Pariyaram also sell their fruits through the Merlin family. “We work on a lease basis and sell around 40-50 tonnes of mangosteen from all over Pariyaram every season,” he adds.

Mangosteen harvested from the Merlins' farm. Pic: MM Nursery and Farm

Organic farming of mangosteen 

Merlin says the mangosteen tree is naturally resistant to most pests and diseases. The trees have a lifespan of over 100 years and can withstand massive storms and floods. “We use only bone meal and cow dung as manures. That’s enough because the tree is hardy and has strong roots,” Merlin explains. 

The tree's height is between 20 and 80 feet (6 to 25 metres), and a person has to climb up to harvest. Mangosteen is best planted through seedlings and not through grafting. 

“A tree prepared through grafting will not grow beyond the 15th year but the one from seed will last over 100 years,” says Merlin.

During harvesting, fruits that fall and can’t be sold are used to prepare seeds. “From my experience, mangosteen is best with seeding and rambutan is good with grafting,” says Merlin.

Other farmers in Pariyaram also sell their mangosteen through the Merlin family. Pic: MM Nursery and Farm

The family sells saplings of mangosteen, coconut, rambutan, areca nut, nutmeg, and other plants through its MM Nursery. The prices of mangosteen saplings start at Rs300 and range from Rs500 for a four-year-old plant to Rs 6,000 for a seven-year-old plant ready for fruiting. 

“We supply across South India and buyers are keen to buy from us due to good plant lineage,” Manu adds.

(Rashmi Pratap is a Mumbai-based journalist specialising in business, financial, and socio-economic reporting)

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