‘The jackfruit will definitely become the most sought-after fruit in the coming years in India’

There is no one in the country who has written as extensively on jackfruit as Shree Padre.  A farm journalist, Padre has been reporting on the jackfruit sector in India and abroad for the past seven years. He is the editor of Adike Patrike, a Kannada farm magazine, written by and circulated among farmers in Karnataka. Padre has travelled to Vidarbha, Konkan and Sri Lanka to study the developments in the jackfruit sector. He spoke to M Suchitra on the need for promoting the fruit in India. Edited excerpts

By M Suchitra
Published: Wednesday 08 July 2015

Q:  Why do you write so much on jackfruit?

A:  Because nobody else is doing that (laughs). Jackfruit has not yet received the attention it should have.  Media do cover it but only occasionally. They rarely write on the immense possibilities of the fruit and its importance in the context of food security, climate change and global warming. Not only media, the general public as well as the policy makers do not seem to realise its health, economic and business potential.

Q: Can you elaborate?

A: There are reports on the yield reduction of rice, wheat, and maize due to rise in temperature. These food crops are sensitive to climate changes. International agencies have warned about impending food shortage. Jackfruit tree is drought resistant. It’s easy to grow. It needs least attention but yields abundant fruits. It withstands pests and diseases. So, no chemical inputs are needed. The crop never fails, even when other crops fail. It can be cooked as a vegetable when it’s raw and eaten as it is when it’s ripe. The nuts can be cooked, too. The fruit and the nuts are highly nutritious and have a lot of health benefits. There is immense scope for value addition. Do you know, every part of the tree is useful? While humans can eat the fruit and seeds, the leaves of jackfruit make good cattle feed. Its roots and leaves are used in medicine and the timber, which is quite expensive, is used for making furniture and musical instruments. Jackfruit used to be a staple food in states such as Kerala during the rainy season when people, especially the poor communities, ran out of rice and vegetables. It can even replace rice and wheat, the common starch staple, and it’s far more nutritious than mangoes, oranges and other tropical fruits. In fact, you can call it a “kalpavriksha” (a mythological, wish-fulfilling tree). But now it’s looked down upon as a poor man’s food in regions it is produced. There is no demand in the local market. About 60-70 per cent of the fruit gets wasted in India.

Q: Why?

A: There is no proper supply chain to areas where it can be consumed.

Q: Why so?

A: So far, nobody has taken jackfruit seriously.

Q: What’s the reason for that?

A: There are many reasons. The biggest curse of the jackfruit is that it’s difficult to harvest, cut and peel. Very few people have the will and skill to cut and peel the bulbs by properly tackling its gum. Those who are not familiar with the fruit will take hours to make it ready for cooking. Who would be ready to take home such a fruit, even if it is highly nutritious? Its size is another problem.  It’s easily perishable too. An average fruits weighs 10-15 kilograms. A small family cannot finish even half of the fruit in a day. There are two varieties—varikka and koozha.  Ripe koozha is not preferred for eating, since it is highly fibrous. In the west coast of India, 60 per cent is koozha, and not in much demand. Though it can be used to make pulp, vegetable, papad and many highly sought after products, it is left to rot.

Q:  How much jackfruit does India waste?

A : Accurate data is not available on the area under jackfruit cultivation or the volume of the fruit produced, let alone the wastage. There is a huge data gap. But going by the different reports, the country could be wasting jackfruit worth Rs 2,000 crore. The actual loss could be much higher. Do you know, in the impoverished Garo Hills region of Meghalaya alone, jackfruit worth Rs 434 crore was wasted in 2012. In states such as Kerala too, no significant value addition is taking place. The country’s first full-fledged processing company exclusively for jackfruit was set up in Kerala only in May this year.

Q :  How can the wastage be minimised?

A : There are three mantras—RTC (ready to cook), RTE (ready to eat) and value-addition. Jackfruit has great potential as a vegetable. For north Indians, jackfruit means only means their favourite “subzi”. Nothing more. A majority of them haven’t even tasted ripe jackfruit. Offering peeled out ripe jackfruit bulbs in good packing will boost its demand as supermarkets are waiting for someone to take this initiative and supply this regularly. The fruit—raw and ripe—and its seeds can be processed to make a number of products. Many small processing units have come up in the past three-four years, making a series of jackfruit products. But all are in infantile stage. There is a huge, untapped potential. Processing of jackfruit will generate a lot of rural employment and augment the rural economy.

Q : What is its status in other countries?

A : Till recently,  jackfruit was an insignificant, scattered or boundary crop the world over. But once some countries realised its importance, they started giving support to its farming and making value-added products. Vietnam, with 15 years history of jackfruit plantations has a whopping 50,000 hectares under jackfruit cultivation now. Malaysia, Philippines, Cambodia and even Sri Lanka are taking aggressive efforts to promote jackfruit. Initiatives to promote manufacture of value-added products are taking place in significant way. For instance, in Sri Lanka, agencies under the ministry of agriculture have been giving training to homemakers, street vendors and entrepreneurs in minimal processing of the fruit to arrest its wastage and create livelihood in rural areas. Tender jackfruit in brine and canned tender jackfruit curries are popular in the country. More than a dozen companies produce a few jackfruit products for export.

Vietnam is number one in the world in making value-added jackfruit products. Sixty per cent of their production goes to industries—for mainly making vacuum-fried chips. Malaysia has included jackfruit is its national policy.

China started jackfruit cultivation only in 1992 but the production has gone up. It encourages jackfruit plantations and planting the tree on the roadside.

The Philippines is offering e-learning courses on cultivation of jackfruit. They are investing on research and development of technologies that would be helpful for processing jackfruit. These countries encourage commercial cultivation. Scientists and activists in Sri Lanka told me proudly that their country would never starve when food become scarce. Can India say so?

Q : Does India have commercial cultivation?

A :  It mostly grows as a scattered tree in India. Large-scale commercial cultivation takes place only in Panruti in Tamil Nadu. Here many people grow jackfruit as a monocrop. Middlemen buy the fruit and take it to big cities such as Mumbai, Bengaluru and Hyderabad.  But growers get at least Rs 70-100 per fruit. Farmers there have grown jackfruits weighing upto 100 kg.

Q : But growers generally don’t earn much from jackfruit.

A :  Growers can make good income from jackfruit if they are organised and have a good market connectivity. There are some issues related to harvesting. Each fruit matures at different time and it is not feasible for a farmer to take it to the market, particularly because it is also huge. But if they are organised and have direct market linkage, they can make a good earning. There are farmers even in the perennially-drought-affected Vidarbha in Maharashtra who earn Rs 5,000-10,000 by selling jackfruit locally as a vegetable. They have cities such as Nagpur where jackfruit is eaten as a substitute for meat. In Toobugere village in Karnataka, farmers started earning Rs 100–200 per fruit after they formed a jackfruit growers’ association, the first and only such association in the country, and built direct connectivity to the market. This was facilitated by Bengaluru’s University of Agricultural Sciences.

Odisha’s Indian Institute of Horticulture Research has trained tribal women in minimal processing procedures of the fruit and given them small, handy machines to peel the outer grind. This has helped them increase their income.

Q  :  But in most of the areas, even in states such as Kerala and Karnataka, where jackfruit has been a part of the diet, it’s wasted.

A : That’s true. There could be more than 200 traditional recipes in these two states. Even then, it’s looked down upon as a poor man’s fruit. It does not enjoy a high social status. In Maharashtra’s Konkan, the story is not different. In Tamil Nadu people generally eat it only when it is ripe. Do you know, from Kerala, about 50,000 tonnes of raw jackfruits are sent to cities like New Delhi as vegetable? Middlemen buy it for Rs 5-10 per fruit and sell it to retailers in markets in faraway cities for over Rs 25 per kg. There it’s rich man’s vegetable. And this is happening even as Kerala suffers from a huge shortage of vegetable and fruits. India is wasting an organically produced fruit and vegetable.

Q : What can be done to deal with this problem?

A : India has to learn from the other jackfruit-growing countries. India has to stop wasting the fruit and take efforts to promote it. Jackfruit should be included in the national agriculture and food policy. The Centre and states should allocate adequate fund for promoting the fruit. There should an awareness building campaign on the benefits of the fruits so that local consumption and demand goes up. Simple technologies to process jackfruit should be developed and made available to entrepreneurs. Agriculture universities should start focussing on jackfruit.

Q : But I’m told systematic research is going on in India on the jackfruit?

A : Only two agriculture universities and two KVKs (Krishi Vigyan Kendras) have done work on the jackfruit. Since jackfruit is termed as a “minor fruit”, it doesn’t have a mandate for research. Though there is need for lot of research in jackfruit, nothing concrete is happening.

Q : But jackfruit is available only for five months…

A : What about mango? Isn’t it a seasonal fruit? Jackfruit is available round the year in Panruti. In a few areas—for instance in Idukki district of Kerala and Tumkur in Karnataka—it is available for 10 months. The jack husk industry in Hyderabad and Diva Foods, a chips unit in Thiruvananthapuram, run their production for 10 months a year. A thorough survey will bring to light many more off-season jackfruit varieties. A Karnataka farmer, Channegowda of Hassan district, is developing a 30-acre jackfruit orchard in which he has planted carefully selected cultivars that will yield at different times of the year.

Q: Are there any success stories in India where value addition jackfruit products have been made?

A: Why not? Vinutha P Hegde of Sirsi, a housewife, has supplied three tonnes of jackfruit bar in the past five years. Shridhar Ogale, a Devgadh-based farmer, is producing preserved tender jackfruit (phanas bhaji) for making vegetables. He is the first farmer to export jackfruit pulp to the UK for making ice-creams. He has recently also started marketing jack seed. Radhika, who used to be a daily wage earner, is running a very successful jackfruit papad industry in Moodabidri, Karnataka.  Jackfruit pulp making, preserved tender jackfruit—two technologies that are practiced in Maharashtra—also have good scope for use in Kerala and Karnataka.

Q : Do you favour growing jackfruit as a monocrop?

A : Not really. It has its own flipside. But then you can grow jackfruit with other fruits as an inter-crop. One advantage is a single farmer or group of farmers can supply the same variety of fruits for industry or for marketing it fresh.

Q : What do you think about the future of jackfruit in the country?

A :  The countdown for jackfruit development has begun in the country. Many civil society groups have started organising jackfruit festivals. In the past decade, about 75 jackfruit festivals have been conducted in Kerala and Karnataka, two in Tamil Nadu and one each in Maharashtra, Mizoram. The jackfruit will definitely become the most sought after fruit in the coming years. You can’t keep a food crop neglected for long. Once the inferiority complex attached to jackfruit in South India gets removed, the wastage will start reducing drastically.

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