JACK OF ALL FRUITS
Can India tap jackfruit's immense potential?
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.
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