Around 35 years ago, when the majority of coconut trees on Merlin Moothedan’s farm were diseased, he thought of cultivating other crops. That was when he remembered the few mangosteen trees near his ancestral home in Chalakudy, Thrissur, whose seeds were sourced from Malaysia by his grandfather.
The trees were at least a hundred years old then but still delighted the family with their sweet mangosteen harvest every year during the months of April-May. After devouring the fruits, Merlin collected the seeds and planted them on his one-acre property. Today, the farmer owns a six-acre land with more than 1,000 mangosteen trees from which he harvests at least 28 tonnes of fruit every season.
“A 35-year-old tree can provide up to 350 kg of fruit per year. Since mangosteen is an expensive tropical fruit with several health benefits, it has a market all over the world. While it is sold for a price between Rs 200-450 in Kerala, it earns up to Rs 600 in other states and countries,” says Merlin, who got into farming soon after completing his studies.
The 64-year-old farmer is not carrying out the farming activities alone. He is accompanied by his sons Midhun and Manu Merlin who are the brains behind scaling up the business and selling the products abroad. While Midhun resigned from his accountant job to help his father and took up full-time farming, Manu is a fitness trainer who runs a gym but is engaged in farming-related activities during the harvest season.
Garden nursery and exports
“Kerala’s weather conditions are ideal for mangosteen cultivation. Due to this reason and because the market rates of the fruit are high, more farmers are growing it nowadays,” shares Merlin.
Other than direct wholesale trade in the nearby stores and markets, the trio have tie-ups with third parties who export the fruit to gulf countries including Saudi Arabia, Qatar and UAE. “In India, a lot of sales happen in Mumbai, Hyderabad, Indore and Bengaluru. The rates here are double what we receive in Kerala,” says Manu, who takes care of the marketing of the produce.
He adds that the fruit is sent to other countries via AirCargo and usually, the total fixed amount is received in advance before the produce is exported. “For the sales within India, distributors directly come and procure the fruits and sometimes we send it to them.”
During the season, which starts in April, many people visit the farm. “While some of them are farmers who plan to start similar cultivation, others are digital content creators who give us free promotions,” shares Manu. “We have social media handles too where we give out some content to bring in more distributors and customers. It is great how these platforms are helping traditional farmers expand their sales and reach all over the world.”
“I’m glad that my sons joined the field. It is after their entry that we scaled up. Without their marketing techniques on these platforms, my income would be meagre and I would have been just another conventional farmer restricted to the local markets of the district. While I think about how to produce quality fruits, they come up with ideas for selling them,” says Merlin with joy.
Apart from mangosteen, the trio also grow rambutan and nutmeg on their farm. The saplings of all three trees are sold via their garden nursery named Merlin Nursery, located near the house. “Farmers in and out of Kerala are our major customers. We also take bulk orders from them. While the fruits are available only during the season, saplings are sold all through the year,” gushes Merlin.
The farmer also adds that the life span of a ripe mangosteen fruit is seven days. The tropical fruit originated in Southeast Asia and is a rich source of Vitamins B1, B2, B9, C, minerals and antioxidants. Intake of the fruit daily is said to contribute to weight loss, healthy skin and a better immune system. The white flesh of this juicy fruit can be eaten raw or can be added to smoothies and salads.
The mangosteen farm of Merlin has trees which are aged between 7-140. “In the case of this fruit, the older the trees, the greater the harvest,” adds Merlin.
“The number of customers is growing every year. We are planning to reach more countries and expand the business. We also hope more farmers start growing this fruit,” says Merlin.