Of grafting and gootee

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Miguel Braganza

The repairs of the Basilica and the casket holding the mortal remains of our Goencho Saib, St Francis Xavier – one of the three co-founders of the ‘Society of Jesus’ or Jesuits along with St Ignatius of Loyola and St Peter Faber – is very much in the news these days.

My friend, Vivek Menezes recently recalled the contribution of the Jesuits in the introduction of grafting techniques in the Konkan, especially Goa, to preserve the clonal progeny and thus create named varieties or cultivars of mango in Goa, India and the world. Mangoes in America owe their existence to the grafting techniques and the dispatch of seven mango grafts from Goa to Brazil by ship along with the farmers in that era. The mango varieties are not of Portuguese origin and St Francis Xavier was from Spain!

The earliest method of vegetative propagation was by stem cuttings. It works to some extent in some plants and does not work at all in others. Ground layering and air-layering (gootee) were the next best thing. Both work very well for citrus fruit plants which are shallow-rooted but are not very good for mango or chickoo, which grow into huge trees. Side grafting on seedlings in situ and approach grafting or inarching on seedling rootstock grown in a pot was the next development. We hardly use the laborious techniques of layering or inarching, that needed one to climb the tree to water the grafts, but they have helped create hundreds of cultivar clones across India, including more than a hundred in Goa. I learnt these techniques as an apprentice to my father, who was a language teacher at the Lyceum.

During the 1970s, Dr RS Amin and others at the Gujarat Agriculture University perfected the technique of wedge grafting of the epicotyl (part of the shoot above the cotyledons and below the true leaves) of a germinating mango seed or ‘stone’. This is commonly known as mango ‘stone grafting’. The same technique can be used for the ‘softwood’ emerging as a new flush on older seedlings in the nursery. This is the most common technique used now.

In 1984, I was given the charge of horticulture in the Zonal Agriculture Office (ZAO), Bicholim, where I was a rookie officer. At that time, all the zones did inarching and only one mali at ZAO Mapusa would produce about a hundred ‘stone grafts’ for VIPs. One of the master grafters in my charge, Sadashiv Zilu Parab, was willing to experiment. I taught him the technique and he used his skill and together we were able to produce more than a thousand stone grafts of mango with almost one hundred per cent success. Since then, epicotyl grafting has become the norm – rather than the exception – in mango grafting in the Directorate of Agriculture, Goa.

In May 1987, the Agriculture Officers’ Association recognised seven master grafters with a certificate at the hands of the then development commissioner of Goa, Vinod Kumar Duggal, who is better known for introducing ‘Raindrop Tourism’ in Goa that used to be shut for the monsoons.

Innovation is the name of the game. Only those who evolve, survive. Today, the coronavirus is teaching us what the dinosaurs did not learn.