“It is the king of fruits,” says the short Indian man, owner of the largest (perhaps only) mango export business in The Gambia.
Indeed. Mangoes have never been such a part of my life. Us Californians are not unfamiliar to mangoes, we usually can find them in the supermarket albeit for a premium price. And it always surprised me to meet so many Americans that had never had a mango before. Then I moved to The Gambia. From April to August/September, mangoes fall from trees like little packages of sweetness from heaven in quantities that outweigh our ability to eat them. There are so many mangoes that during the mango season you can see stacks of rotting mangoes on the side of the road. The sound of a mango hitting the ground becomes part of our everyday environment and the dropping of the mango is further emphasized as children try to kill each other in a race to collect it. Everyday my host mother brings me at least a couple mangoes. Every compound I walk into offers me a mango as a snack. To say the least, mangoes were an integral part of my life.
So understand my surprise when later I find that they could even be a bigger part of my life. The World Bank is trying to promote the use of private business as a development tool and has funded a horticultural project as part of this mission. Well, with all the wasted Mangoes in this country, why not process them, try to find a larger market for them and put the plentiful mangoes here to productive use? So, I find myself working with a Gambian American, a British business consultant, and a South African Mango consultant, trying to see how feasible a mango business would be. For about a month, my entire life revolved around mangoes. What kind of products are being produced locally? What kind of products are being imported? Is there a local market that buys mango products? What are the quality of the mango orchards? Is there a place to buy mangoes? How do you control for mango quality? What are the best types of mangoes? For exporting fresh? For exporting as a pulp? For sugar content? For fiber content? On and on and on and on.
This is just the tip of the iceberg. And anything that I’ve learned about mangoes, how to raise the trees, what kind of equipment exists to harvest or process and what the markets look like is only a miniscule fraction of what this Mango Consultant knows. Aside from the constant corny jokes and puns, in a South African accent, that this man uses, he has lived his entire life studying and consulting about tropical fruits. More to my surprise is how it seems I can ask any question, on any subject, and be taught well by this man.
So that is why for the last month I’ve found myself in the big city, working with a big NGO, on a project funded by a big organization (World Bank). My contribution to it is less novel than the mango knowledge, as I focused on the local market and business development (export regulations, local competitors, business constraints, etc). But really, I never would have thought that I’d be surrounded by mangoes like I was for this project.