Won­der fruit

Kokum, a fruit of the Western Ghats, has fi­nally found ac­cep­tance in its own ter­rain, af­ter a mar­ket was cre­ated for it


Sproudly walks through RIHARIKURADE his or­chard of kokum ( Garcinia indica), a wild fruit that is fa­mous for its ther­a­peu­tic prop­er­ties. With more than 2,400 trees spread over seven hectares (ha) of land, his or­chard in South Goa is the world’s largest kokum plan­ta­tion. Ku­rade is also per­haps the only farmer in the re­gion to have taken up sys­tem­atic large-scale plan­ta­tion of the fruit that is en­demic to the Western Ghats. Al­most ev­ery part of the sweet and tangy fruit has some medic­i­nal or in­dus­trial use (see ‘A healthy op­tion’ p21).

Still close to 85 per cent of the fruit used to go waste ev­ery year till 2010,ac­cord­ing to a sur­vey con­ducted by Goa non-profit the Western Ghats Kokum Foun­da­tion (wgkf ). The sur­vey says that the fruit is cul­ti­vated in small plan­ta­tions in North Kar­nataka,Goa,south­ern Ma­ha­rash­tra and parts of Ker­ala and the col­lec­tive acreage un­der it is not more than 1,000 ha in the Konkan re­gion. How­ever, wgkf, and other lo­cal groups, are now try­ing to re­write the story of the healthy fruit.

The pri­mary rea­son farm­ers shy away from grow­ing kokum is that it clashes with mango harvest. “Mango has a lu­cra­tive mar­ket un­like kokum. Be­sides, this tree is mainly found in deep forests mak­ing trans­porta­tion dif­fi­cult. Thus most of the fruits go waste,” says Miguel Bra­ganza, joint sec­re­tary of wgkf. Though kokum has been pop­u­lar as a tra­di­tional medicine, it was widely used only in kitchens as a culi­nary item till about 2000, says Ajit Shi­rod­kar, chair­per­son of wgkf.

The harvest sea­son and the shelf-life of the fruit are very short.“The harvest sea­son of kokum is be­tween the sec­ond week of May and the end of the month. Once the rains start in the first week of June,even the plucked fruits

start to de­cay.As a re­sult,farm­ers are forced to sell them,”says Shi­rod­kar.

The trans­for­ma­tion

The kokum story saw a pos­i­tive twist in 2000 when wgkf was set up with the sole mo­tive of mak­ing the fruit pop­u­lar. In the next few years,the group sur­veyed and cat­alouged the avail­able va­ri­eties of kokum. The foun­da­tion then worked on cre­at­ing aware­ness among farm­ers and aca­demics for the pro­mo­tion of the fruit. “When we asked farm­ers to take up kokum plan­ta­tion on a large scale, they said there are no buy­ers.That is when we came up with the idea of man­u­fac­tur­ing value-added prod­ucts of kokum. So in the past four to five years, value-added prod­ucts such as kokum juice, kokum syrup and kokum date have be­come pop­u­lar in the re­gion,” says Shi­rod­kar.

And the im­pact is vis­i­ble. Sev­eral smallscale firms have started to earn good prof­its from kokum prod­ucts while en­sur­ing bet­ter prices to the farm­ers. One such firm is Sind­hus­furti Nat­u­ral Food and Re­search Pvt. Ltd. that is pro­moted by Konkan Nis­arg Manch,a Sind­hudurg-based non-profit that works in the Konkan belt to gen­er­ate liveli­hood op­por­tu­ni­ties by pro­mot­ing ne­glected nat­u­ral re­sources. The com­pany shares 11 per cent of its prof­its with kokum farm­ers.“Our main fo­cus is to pro­vide farm­ers due value of their pro­duce,” says San­tosh Ped­nekar, head of sales and mar­ket­ing at Sind­hus­furti.Last year,the com­pany bagged a US con­tract to ex­port three tonnes of dry kokum. The con­tract was ful­filled with the help of 50 small farm­ers and nine self-help groups. “We agreed to ex­port our prod­ucts only on the con­di­tion that they will pay 100 per kg to the farm­ers as against the pre­vail­ing price of 3540 per kg. In re­turn, we promised to hy­gien­i­cally col­lect the fruits,”says Ped­nekar. This pushed the lo­cal price of kokum to 120 per kg. “Till two years back, I sold them for 35-40 per kg.Last year the rate in­creased to 60 per kg.This year,I am ex­pect­ing to sell the fruit for over 100 per kg,”says Ku­rade.

Sind­hus­furti is now try­ing to pop­u­larise kokum rind in In­dian mar­kets by tar­get­ing yoga cen­tres, health cen­tres, and med­i­cal shops. It has bagged a con­tract with the Cen­tral and Western Rail­ways to sell kokum soda at stores, plat­forms and trains. Re­tail chain Big Bazar is also selling Sind­hus­furti prod­ucts at its Ma­ha­rash­tra out­lets.

Chal­lenges ahead

The re­cent at­tempts have helped in con­vinc­ing farm­ers to cul­ti­vate kokum, but a lot re­mains to be done. For starters, stan­dard­i­s­a­tion and cer­ti­fi­ca­tion of kokum prod­ucts is re­quired “to ex­pand the prod­uct’s mar­ket at na­tional and in­ter­na­tional level”.

“Right now, ev­ery­body is pro­cess­ing prod­ucts as per con­ve­nience.This is not good for the mar­ket,”says Shi­rod­kar. Sci­en­tists at the Balasa­heb Sawant Konkan Kr­ishi Vidyapeeth (bskkv),Rat­na­giri have pre­pared stan­dard pro­ce­dures for pop­u­lar kokum prod­ucts and are de­vel­op­ing pro­ce­dures for cer­ti­fi­ca­tion. The agri­cul­ture univer­sity is also de­vel­op­ing kokum va­ri­eties that can be har­vested much be­fore the mon­soon, says B N Sawant, agri­cul­ture sci­en­tist at the bskkv’s re­gional fruit re­search sta­tion in Sind­hudurg.

Shi­rod­kar also warns against false claims made by sellers about the fruit. “Sev­eral flyby-night op­er­a­tors are selling Garcinia and other va­ri­eties found in Sri Lanka and Thai­land as a won­der fruit that can re­duce fat in weeks. Such ex­ag­ger­a­tions are not sci­en­tif­i­cally proven and can ham­per the rep­u­ta­tion of the fruit,”he adds.Bra­ganza says the long-term chal­lenge is to cre­ate a mar­ket that ben­e­fits both farm­ers and cus­tomers.

Sri­hari Ku­rade owns the world's largest kokum plan­ta­tion

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