THE long-neglected and lowly jackfruit is finally finding its rightful place in the market – and on dining tables. Until recently, yield far outstripped demand. Growers of the fruit would watch it rot for want of takers, but not anymore.
In May, for the first time ever, Machaan Malad, a three-star restaurant in Mumbai, held a jackfruit food festival. “We ran it for nearly a month. Customer response was very good. But we had to end it abruptly. We couldn’t get enough jackfruit,” says Sunil Pawar, the restaurant’s manager.
In Mysore, Bangalore and Mumbai, you might have to pay Rs 100 for a single jackfruit. But in Ratnagiri or Kerala, it costs next to nothing. In Kerala, farmers used to hang a board on their jackfruit tree saying,“Anybody can pluck jackfruit from this tree.”
Jackfruit growers still face social discrimination. “Carry a jackfruit plant in a bus and everyone teases you,” says KR Jayan of Irinjalkuda, Kerala. “Couldn’t you have got a mango or a banana plant, they ask.”
A two-hour drive from Bangalore will take you to Toobugere hobli, in Doddaballapur district of Karnataka. Toobugere’s jackfruit is famous for its succulence. Middlemen come here from afar to buy the fruit. Farmers would once sell at a flat rate. Entire trees would be given for a song to contractors for harvesting.
It was scientists from the Gandhi Krishi Vijnan Kendra’s Rural Bio Resource Complex (RBRC) linked to the University of Agricultural Sciences, (UAS), Bangalore, who rescued the jackfruit from oblivion and got farmers the income they deserved.
Dr K Narayana Gowda and Dr Doddahanumaih with their team, helped form India’s only organisation of small and marginal jackfruit farmers in 2007. Once the Toobugere Jackfruit Growers’ Association (TBJA) got going, scientists helped farmers rapidly sort out glitches. As a result, the income of jackfruit farmers has tripled.
ORPHANED FRUIT: The world’s largest fruit has many names – kathal, panasa, jaca, nangka, kanoon, mít or Artocarpus heterophyllus, its biological name. India is the world’s second biggest producer of the fruit and the state of Karnataka is the leader in jackfruit production.
How much jackfruit goes waste? Nobody knows for sure. Some say 75 per cent. Kerala wastes around 350 million jackfruits annually. Karnataka hasn’t listed it under the National Horticulture Mission. If you Google, you won’t get statewise area and production figures for jackfruit. When nobody knows how much is produced, how will we gauge how much is wasted? Still, assuming one jackfruit costs Rs 3 and the national wastage is 50 per cent, India is losing Rs 214.4 crore worth of food every year.
In the south, the biggest problem jackfruit growers faced was lack of a supply chain and processing facilities. “In villages there is a shortage of labour. There is hardly anyone willing to pluck jackfruit, deseed and collect the flakes. Even if that is done, no one bothers to transport the produce to the city. Further processing is no problem at all. If somebody brings farm fresh unripe flakes to us, we buy it for Rs 30 per kg. There is a lot of demand for chips alone.
There is a lot of demand for chips alone. Customers arrive in their cars,” says Annappa Pai, director, Ace Foods, a reputed food products exporter in Mangalore.
Organised direct marketing has always been difficult. Jackfruit is not cultivated as a standalone crop. It is planted in homesteads, as windbreakers or shade trees in a scattered way. The peak crop season is the monsoon. Harvesting and transporting fruits from different trees where roads don’t exist is difficult. Then, fruits on a tree don’t mature simultaneously. Selective harvesting makes it more complex. For an individual farmer, carting a few jackfruits to a distant city is not practical.
SCIENTISTS TO THE RESCUE: Dr Gowda and his team stepped into the picture. He is coordinator of a five-year RBRC project sponsored by the state’s Department of Bio- Technology (DBT).
It is scheduled to end in March 2010. The objective of the project, the only one of its kind in south India, was to enhance the income and living conditions of farmers who are fast losing interest in agriculture. The scientists hoped to do this by transferring a range of technologies to farmers and providing market linkages.
The project’s target area was made up of 75 villages of Toobugere hobli, comprising 8,340 families. The government committed Rs 436.73 lakhs to the project.
“Villagers had lost confidence in politicians and the bureaucracy. Before starting the project, I went round to Toobugere’s villagers. We told them, we will make sincere efforts to improve your lives. We will do whatever we promise. We won’t promise what we can’t do. We stood by that at any cost, effort and time required,” says Dr Gowda.
Ironically, jackfruit was not on the agenda of the scientists. But every time they went around Toobugere hobli, villagers would serve them delicious jackfruit. They were shown a wondrous 300-year-old jackfruit tree owned by 84-year-old Kachahally Narasimhayya.
“Talking to villagers we learnt that such an amazing fruit didn’t even fetch them 25 per cent of its real price,” says Dr Gowda. The team felt very strongly that they must ‘do something’ and immediately incorporated jackfruit into their project.
“Our marketing experts advised us to link farmers to the best markets. But this plan didn’t work,” says Dr Gowda. “We did an extensive survey which showed us why. Only 15 per cent farmers were able to transport their crop to distant markets.”
For the rest, 85 per cent of small and marginal farmers, the only option was selling to middlemen at whatever price was offered. To go to a distant market, a small farmer would need to hire a tempo for a few bags of jackfruit, pay an agricultural worker to look after farming operations while he was away. He would spend money on personal expenses and then there were those offloading charges.
The survey showed that farmers in the entire target area had been spending as much as Rs 4.5 crores every year to take their crops to different markets in different cities. Naturally such high costs ate into whatever little the farmer made.
This grassroots reality sunk in. It made the team think. Organising the farmers appeared to be the only solution. The scientists examined various options. Should they start a co-operative? Was contract farming a good idea? Finally they settled for a producers’ association. Decision-making rests with the farmers so it empowers them.
The scientists spread the word, promoting the idea of the association, contacting relevant agencies and doing all the paperwork. Says Dr Gowda, “What we learnt is that such work requires patience. Though your speed is 100 kilometres, things move only at 25 kilometres.”
Literacy and awareness among the farmers of Toobugere is below average. This came in the way of organising them. “They need hand holding. You have to give them direction, lead by example, show them how to come out of their crisis,” said Dr Gowda.
Finally, the Toobugere Jackfruit Growers’ Association was born. It has Kachahally Narasimhayya, owner of the 300-year-old jackfruit tree, as its president. MG Ravikumar is the association’s secretary. Its governing body, apart from president, secretary and treasurer, has ten directors.
Since ‘farming activity’ in jackfruit is limited to harvesting, the association is active only during those four months. At present it has a modest membership of 60 farmers. But then, as it has been famously said, a small committed team is all you need to change the world.
MONEY ON TREES: The first breakthrough TJGA made was to get farmers to pool their jackfruit and take it directly to Bangalore. HOPCOMS, a cooperative marketing giant offered Rs 6 per kg of whole fruit. This was three to four times more than what farmers were getting from middlemen.
“That year, we took one lorry load of jackfruit to HOPCOMS. After that the middlemen increased the price. They offered us Rs 10 to Rs 12 per kg. Many farmers, including non-members, sold their produce locally,” said MG Ravikumar, the association’s secretary.
Though accurate data is not available, it is estimated that Toobugere’s 75 villages have around 6,000 jackfruit trees. Earlier, the total income from sale of jackfruit was Rs 5 lakh. According to Dr Gowda, this has now risen to around Rs 15 lakhs – a threefold hike.
The University of Agricultural Sciences broke the story to the media. People got interested in the Toobugere jackfruit. “Urban consumers were asking for jackfruits. In villages we were struggling to find takers. So there was a mismatch,” says Dr Gowda. The consumer and the farmer had to be paired. The scientists decided to launch jackfruit fairs.
In 2007 the first Jack Fair was held in Toobugere in the premises of the famous Ghati Subrahmanya temple, which attracts thousands of devotees. In 2008 the Jack Fair was held at the Hadonahally Krishi Vijnan Kendra (KVK) itself.
This year the Jack Fair arrived in Bangalore’s Lalbagh. It was a thumping success. “Consumers tasted our excellent Toobugere jackfruit and our farmers tasted fair prices,” said MG Ravikumar.
Siddappa and Munirajappa, two Toobugere jackfruit farmers, stayed at Lalbagh for nearly 12 days. Siddappa earned Rs 20,000 by selling 600 jackfruits. Munirajappa made Rs 25,000 from 800 jackfruits. Non-members also made money. Said MC Rajashekhar, a farmer, “I earned Rs 7,000 by selling directly. Otherwise I would have got only Rs 1500 from the middlemen. We never knew we could take our jackfruit to fairs and make good money. I want to join the association now.”
Encouraged by the scientists, Toobugere’s farmers have also taken to raising jackfruit plants for sale to farmers in other states. In the last three years around 30,000 jackfruit plants have been sold. For instance, Narasimhayya and Marappa earned Rs 30,000 and Rs 20,000 respectively last year.
In jackfruit, though, a seedling giving true to type fruits is very rare. One unscientific act of the project is that it is distributing seedlings of excellent varieties of jack. The latex of jackfruit makes it difficult for grafting. The Agricultural University is reportedly getting a very low success rate in grafting, below 25 per cent. Even private breeders are achieving more than 60 to 70 per cent. The project has to put in more effort to solve the deficiency in ‘true to type propagation’.
Some Toobugere farmers like Maralli Nagarajappa and Gantaganahalli Manjunath are planning to plant jackfruit as a crop by itself on half or one acre. Some farmers are replanting jackfruit, confident of earning an income.
SMALL AND SMART: But when it comes to value addition, India is at an infantile stage. Thailand, Philippines, Malaysia, Indonesia and Vietnam have mastered value addition of jackfruit. Tender jackfruit is available in tins. Jackfruit chips are churned out by dozens of factories.
Though some of our agriculture universities and research institutions claim that they ‘have been working at jackfruit value addition’ nothing worthy has been commercialised. Most scientists show old samples of what they have done. However, jackfruit Srikhand and Kulfi developed by UAS appear interesting. Those who have tasted these say the two products can woo North Indian customers.
It is small food processing units that are innovating and adding value to jackfruit. Sitharam runs a sweet stall, Pavan Stores, in Tumkur. He makes jackfruit burfi round the year using dehydrated flakes and sells 350 to 500 kg of this sweet every month.
Thomson Bakery near Mannar in Kerala sells 300 kg of jackfruit halwa during the jackfruit season. Asian Home Products Pvt. Ltd, Thiruvananthapuram, produces 400 kg of salted chips daily by outsourcing to smaller units. Its proprietor, NR Pillai, says the chips sell quickly.
Adilakshmi Home Industries in Moodabidri, Karnataka produces 7000 jackfruit papads daily. Kadamba Marketing Co-operative, Sirsi has for the first time introduced branded jackfruit papads. They sold 60,000 papads last year. To make papads during the monsoon season they installed a food grade drier and that boosted production.
Laments Annappa Pai, “Unfortunately, despite demand, a full-fledged branded jackfruit papad industry hasn’t come up.”
“Marketing jackfruit papads is not a problem. Production is where the challenge lies,” says Radhika, proprietor of Adilakshmi Home Industries.
The Krishi Vijnan Kendra in Pathanamthitta, Kerala, has been giving training in jackfruit value addition. Jackfruit jam, squash and juice, produced under KVK’s supervision, are well received by local consumers. Shana Harshan, subject matter specialist in home science, offers an interesting calculation. “Each jackfruit weighs 10 kg. It has 5.6 kg of flakes. If one fruit is used to make a product it can bring a net income of Rs 700 to the entrepreneur.”
The only unit that has reached a level of scale is Gokul Fruits Pvt Ltd in Udupi district of Karnataka. It makes jackfruit chips using the vacuum dry technology. Parayil Exports of Kottayam district is one of the few companies exporting frozen jackfruit to the US and other countries. A small quantity of fresh jackfruit is exported to the Gulf, UK and other countries from Kerala, to cater to the Malayalee and Tamil population there.
HOMELY JACK: To cut a jackfruit, deseed it and collect the flakes while struggling with its latex is really a cumbersome job. This is what keeps many housewives away from it. Its huge size discourages women from buying it for their small families.
One way out is to make clean jackfruit flakes in a ‘ready to cook’ form for super markets.
In countries like Singapore and Malaysia, fresh jackfruit, neatly packed in cellophane packets is sold in super markets. Such fresh fruit packets have now been introduced in Big Bazar, Jayanagar Super Market and other outlets in Bangalore. In Mysore some farmers have got together to do this. “Compared to marketing the whole fruit, we get double the income,” says Ramesh Kikkeri, a farmer. “No packet remains unsold. We are also able to attract a new segment of the middle class who weren’t getting jackfruit in this form earlier.”
Jackfruit can also be made available through the year. Two Kerala farmers have shown how. GRAMA (Group Rural Agricultural Marketing Association), a Self-Help Group (SHG) in Bharananganam, Kerala produces dehydrated ripe flakes, unripe flakes and tender jackfruit. The dried tender jackfruit lasts for six months. The other products have a shelf life of one year.
“Just re-hydrate the jackfruit flakes by soaking in water for a couple of hours. Then you can use it for any dish,” explains Joseph Lukose, the brain behind this pioneering work. A food grade drier is a must. “If community driers can be installed, we can utilise all jackfruit,” he says.
One Professor Lokaras has developed a unique food grade drier, which runs on farm waste like coconut husks and dried twigs. Apparently more than 3000 such driers are functioning in Karnataka and a few in Kerala.
Rural Enterprises Network (REN) in Sri Lanka is another pioneer in dried jackfruit. Unripe flakes are dried through driers in 10 centres. The product is sold locally and exported to Europe. To popularise its product, REN conducts cookery shows.
Individuals too are boosting the popularity of the jackfruit. Geetha N Bhat, a housewife in Sagar, Karnataka, knows 250 jackfruit recipes and demonstrates her knowhow on local TV channels. In fact, chefs at Jack Fairs have been showing how practically the entire jackfruit can be cooked.
Dr Usha Ravindra, Assistant Professor at UAS, can serve up over a dozen products like jam, khara sev, shankara poli, papad all made from the fruit’s white fibre which is generally thrown away. Premkumar Krishnan Nair, senior lecturer, Oriental College of Hotel Management, Lakkadi, Kerala, is visibly excited about jackfruit seed. “It’s a wonderful raw material. We can use it instead of expensive cashew nut in some preparations.”
His students have made jackfruit seed burfi, jackfruit honey, jackfruit preserve. “Though the scope for including jackfruit in our cookery classes is limited – the curriculum is produced by the university – I can very well demonstrate it in the ethnic cooking section.”
KING OF FRUIT: “Jackfruit is the real Kalpavriksh. It can fulfill the hunger of an entire family. We should declare it our national fruit,” says KR Jayan, who is doing a jackfruit tree planting campaign. He has planted 4,000 plants in his home district of Thrissur and he intends to plant one lakh in his lifetime.
Jack Fairs are also growing in popularity. Eleven were held in Kerala and Karnataka this year. People vied with each other to eat fresh jackfruit and buy grafts.
“I’m told in India that mango is the king of fruits. In Southeast Asia it is durian. Others argue that mangosteen is the king. In Hawaii, Ohelo berry and poha are considered kings,” said Ken Love, Executive Director, Hawaii Tropical Fruit Growers while inaugurating the Wayanad Jack Fair. “I am of the opinion that if all these are kings, then jackfruit is the kingmaker.”
Spread over two years, Love’s group gave jackfruit products to 650 respondents at farmers’ market and sought their opinion. “Around 80 to 85 per cent of white people liked it. Many of these respondents were tasting jackfruit for the first time. Unfortunately, there is no effort to cater jackfruit to them.”
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