Can In­dia tap jack­fruit's im­mense po­ten­tial?

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wtrees started bear­ing fruits in March, Lee­lamma HEN JACK­FRUIT thought it bet­ter to es­cape her homestead in Ker­ala’s Palakkad dis­trict. She was ex­hausted as­sist­ing her hus­band James Mathew in his pur­suit of mak­ing pro­cessed jack­fruit prod­ucts. “I will not re­turn un­til the jack­fruit sea­son is over, ”Lee­lamma told Mathew be­fore she left for Aus­tralia to spend time with her chil­dren. Sixty-eight-year-old Mathew has been at it for over 15 years. Mathew’s af­fair with the fruit started in 1998.He would dry, fry, boil and steam raw and ripe jack­fruit in a small room all day. “He even sold our cof­fee es­tate in Kar­nataka and spent more than ` 10 lakh to fund his ex­per­i­ments,” says Lee­lamma. Over the years James has suc­ceeded in de­vel­op­ing a bas­ket­ful of prod­ucts. These in­clude a golden-yel­low jack­fruit wine, de­hy­drated flakes that can be stored,a health drink, baby food and jack seed pow­der. But he did not try to find a mar­ket for his prod­ucts or earn money from them; in­stead, he con­ducted free work­shops ev­ery year to train peo­ple how to make them. Af­ter the train­ing, he would gift them his prod­ucts. Ev­ery­body, in­clud­ing his fam­ily,thought he was crazy. “He even got a nick­name—Chakka James, ”says Lee­lamma. “Chakka”is the Malay­alam word which got cor­rupted into “jack”and gave the fruit its name.

“I don’t care what they call me, ”says James. “I’m wor­ried about the wastage of a won­der­ful fruit.”

They live in their homestead of 4.8 hectares (ha) in Kan­ji­rap­puzha vil­lage.The homestead has 60 jack­fruit trees of firm-fleshed varikka va­ri­ety, scat­tered among co­conut,areca nut,co­coa and rub­ber.Ev­ery year,be­tween March and July,each tree bears 50-100 fruits,with a sin­gle fruit weigh­ing 10-15 kg.“We use the ten­der,raw fruit to make dishes and con­sume the ripe one as it is,”says Lee­lamma.

“But how much can we eat?” asks James.The fruit is so huge that a small fam­ily can­not fin­ish even half of it in a day. Be­sides, once plucked, a ma­ture fruit ripens in two days and per­ishes in four. So, more than half of the fruits re­main on the trees, pro­vid­ing a feast to birds and squir­rels be­fore fall­ing and rot­ting. This wastage pushed James to do some­thing about it. He has also been writ­ing to var­i­ous Cen­tral and state min­istries to draw their at­ten­tion to the wastage.

Raw fruit can be a good sub­sti­tute for meat and the seeds can be cooked, too.

Ear­lier, raw jack­fruit meal was a sta­ple in Ker­ala’s vil­lages when peo­ple ran out of rice and veg­eta­bles dur­ing the rainy sea­son.

In­cred­i­ble tree

The jack­fruit tree is easy to grow, re­quires min­i­mal labour for plant­ing and is re­sis­tant to cli­mate change. “We just have to pro­tect the sapling from cat­tle,” says Mathew.“It never fails, even when all other crops fail.” It can, there­fore, be an im­por­tant food crop.

At a time when en­vi­ron­ment pro­tec­tion agen­cies across the globe are em­pha­sis­ing on the need to fo­cus on un­der­utilised crops and crops that are re­sis­tant to cli­mate change,In­dia—one of the largest pro­duc­ers of jack­fruit—should have seized the op­por­tu­nity.

Jack­fruit, Ar­to­car­pus het­ero­phyl­lus, is the largest known tree-borne fruit. It is said to have orig­i­nated in the ever­green rain­forests of the Western Ghats. Apart from Ker­ala, the fruit also grows in Tamil Nadu, Kar­nataka, Ma­ha­rash­tra, Andhra Pradesh, Te­lan­gana, Odisha, West Ben­gal, Ut­tar Pradesh, Bi­har, Ch­hat­tis­garh, Jhark­hand, Mad­hya Pradesh and the north-eastern states. “It is a mul­ti­pur­pose tree that pro­vides food, tim­ber, fuel and cat­tle feed. It grows best in re­gions with good rain and sun­shine and lives for 100 years. It grows in dry weather,too,if ir­ri­ga­tion fa­cil­i­ties are avail­able,”says San­tosh Ku­mar K V, as­sis­tant pro­fes­sor, Col­lege of Forestry, Ker­ala Agri­cul­tural Univer­sity.The canopy is very large and can keep the mi­cro­cli­mate cool. It is also drought-tol­er­ant be­cause its roots ex­tend to the moist sub-soil.

“Com­pared to other trop­i­cal fruits such as mango, guava and banana, pest at­tacks and dis­eases are neg­li­gi­ble in jack­fruit. So chem­i­cal in­puts are not needed to grow it,” says Laila Mathew, pro­fes­sor at the depart­ment of po­mol­ogy and flori­cul­ture,Ker­ala Agri­cul­tural Univer­sity. The fruit also has sev­eral health ben­e­fits (see ‘High on nu­tri­ents’, p30).

“In­dia does not even un­der­stand the po­ten­tial of the crop,” says Shree Padre, a Kar­nataka-based jour­nal­ist,who has been writ­ing on jack­fruit for the past seven years and has trav­elled to South-Asian coun­tries to un­der­stand how they pro­mote the fruit. “The fruit, which was sta­ple 40-50 years ago in sev­eral states of the coun­try, re­mains grossly un­der­utilised, Padre adds (Log on to www.down­toearth.org. in for his in­ter­view).

"It's a mir­a­cle tree. But we are ne­glect­ing it. Jack­fruit

is prob­a­bly the largest or­ganic food the coun­try pro­duces. It is also the most wasted one"

, agri­cul­ture ex­pert

SHREE PADRE Phanaspoli, a pan­cake made of pro­cessed jack­fruit pulp, is a nu­tri­tious snack

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