Mangaluru: 'Harikale Menasu' has an army behind it, an army of devoted and committed farmers who wouldn’t let this rare and fragrant variety of chilli go extinct. The rare chilli, the secret behind the sumptuous culinary prowess of Konkan, grows along the banks of the Nethravathi river in the Harikale, Ambalamugaru and Paavur villages.

Just up till two centuries ago, 200 acres of land in these villages was devoted to the production of menasu. The seed nursery alone covered around 20 acres. With the production shrinking to a mere 5 acres, alarmed farmers have come together under the Karnataka Rajya Raytha Sangham, along with the Indian Agricultural Research Institute and the Mangaluru Agricultural Information Centre to revive the local chilli.

These large sized chillies with abundant seeds and a taste hotter than the bird's eye chilli is also slightly fragrant. The chilli is the culinary secret behind the pickles of the Gowdasaraswatha brahmins and the 'Chicken Pulimunji', a specialty of the Konkan cuisine.

While the other varieties of chillies sell for Rs. 150 a kilo, these cost Rs. 425 a kilo. Crushed under a crisis created by the lack of farm workers and buyers despite the demand, the agricultural community has come forward to build a unity that will help rescue the fledgling species by planting on 50 acres from the next season onwards.

ICAR, which is supporting the movement by initiating the process to register menasu in the Farmer's Rights Authority and the Protection of Plant Varieties Directory, will also be hands on managing a seed nursery for the renewal. The efforts are expected to enable the protection of the genetic purity and food diversity along with farmers’ rights. Efforts are also on to procure a GI tag for this product. The Sankarapura jasmines from near Uduppi already holds a GI tag.