Poor man’s fruit stages come back in Kerala

South India

KOCHI: “Anybody can pluck jackfruit from this tree”; this was a board that could be seen in several homesteads across Kerala until recently. Not anymore. Traders are now going from house to house looking for the poor man’s fruit.

“I was surprised when a man knocked on our door in one morning and asked if I will sell the matured jackfruits. The man plucked 100 jackfruits from five trees in our homestead and gave me Rs.2000”, says Sherly Joseph.

Sherly was surprised because she used to see the fruit rot without any takers until a few years ago. She was planning to uproot the trees as the rotten fruits were attracting worms and flies causing health issues. The 58-year-old learnt that the reason for the sudden surge in demand was the entry of a new crop of private entrepreneurs into the jackfruit processing sector.

She could see diverse products suiting the modern man’s tastes in the super markets. Jackfruit halwa, jackfruit finger chips, jackfruit Ready-to-Serve beverage, jackfruit candy, jackfruit bar, jackfruit srikhand, jackfruit kulfi, jackfruit bulbs were some of these products.

Sherly, who has ten jackfruit trees in her 25-cent courtyard at Muvattupuzha, found the fruit as a source of additional income that she could save. Many like Sherly can expect to reap rich dividends from jackfruit trees that stood neglected till recently with the Kerala government declaring jackfruit as the state’s official fruit.

Jackfruit, called Chakka in Malayalam, was an inalienable part of Malayalee’s diet till a few decades ago. They savoured every part of chakka – tender or ripe – with mouth-watering dishes like chakka puzhukku, chakka eriserry, chakka thoran, chakka varatti, chakka chips and several others. The chakka puzhukku made from raw jackfruit and seeds were even a staple food during lunch.

Though Kerala has several varieties of jackfruit, varikachakka, koozhachakka and thenvarika are the popular ones. However, chakka loving Malayalees could relish the fruit only for few months in a year in the past since the trees used to fruit only during the summer season.

But with entrepreneurs employing new technologies to freeze dry jackfruits, chakka is now available 365 days. The chakka lovers now can get a wide variety of products even with a click of the mouse with many companies taking their products online.

Jackfruit365.com, promoted by James Joseph, who took a plunge into jackfruit processing after quitting a high paying job of director of Microsoft, is a pioneer in the promotion of processed freeze-dried jackfruit. A host of other preparations such as biriyani, masala dosa, galouti kabab, kathi roll, panna cotta and payasam can be made from the dehydrated jackfruit he is marking through Amazon.

The entrepreneurs embraced chakka after scientific studies revealed its medicinal contents. Joseph saw immense business scope in theSydney University’s Glycaemic Index Research Service study that found the glycaemic load and carbohydrate content in jackfruit is the lowest compared to wheat and rice, Joseph re-branded jackfruit as one of the cheapest solutions to diabetics, spreading fast in Kerala.

The state, which holds dubious distinction of being India’s diabetic capital with an incidence rate of 138.2 per 1,000 persons, seems to have accepted jackfruit. Apart from diabetics, jackfruit can also alleviate conditions of asthma, thyroid, heartburn, anaemia and bone, cardiac and respiratory disorders besides checking blood pressure, according to recent studies.

The fruit is also found to be an immune booster. It is also extensively used in Ayurveda products. The traditional medicine practitioners use the bud leaf for headache and tooth ache. A jackfruit promotor has even developed wine from jackfruit using indigenous methods.

The elevation of jackfruit by the Kerala government as the state fruit followed the adoption of jackfruit by the private entrepreneurs. They promoted the fruit through a series of jackfruit festivals across the state. What brought it into focus was the National Jackfruit Festival held in 2011 in the state capital of Thiruvananthapuram.

The huge success of the event led to formation of Jackfruit Promotion Council (JPC) in the voluntary sector. The NGOs associated with the platform have been creating awareness about the benefits of jackfruit not only as a medicine but also as an organic food and vegetable.

L Pankajakshan, former general secretary of the JPC, said that the declaration of jackfruit as the state’s fruit will help the farmers and the people only if the state and central governments follow up the initiative by focusing on research, promotion and marketing. 

He told the South Indian Post that jackfruit was the most under-researched fruit in India now. He said that the full potential of jackfruit can be realized only if the government take steps to scientifically validate the health benefits of the fruit.

“Jackfruit can be promoted in domestic as well as international market as a premium organic and medicinal product if backed by research. We had suggested clinical trial to validate the efficacy of jackfruit in the management of diabetics. The response from the authorities have not been encouraging,” Pankajakshan said.

He said that the government was more interested in processing and marketing the jackfruit. The government should leave this to the private sector and focus on research and promotion of the benefits of the jackfruit. The market will accept jackfruit without any efforts if the benefits are made known to the world. 

Jackfruit is believed to rich in vitamins A, B and C, potassium, calcium, iron, proteins and carbohydrates. Laboratory tests showed that jackfruit contained 3.65 per cent Lauric acid (dodecanoic acid), a saturated fatty acid that has antimicrobial properties. Lauric acid is also found in human milk (6.2 per cent of total fat) and cow’s milk (2.9 per cent).

Development journalist, Shree Padre says that the promotion of jackfruit can boost the rural economy of Kerala. It can create food and financial security for small-scale farmers, reduce the import of pesticide-laden vegetables from neighbouring states and subsequently improve the state’s health index.

He told the South Indian Post said that a large chunk of jackfruit produced in the country was going waste as there are no centres to train people on value addition, packaging, promotion and channelisation of its products. Jackfruit has immense scope to develop Ready to Eat (RTE) and Ready to Cook (RTC) products.

“Several countries have realized the potential of jackfruit and taken steps to aggressively promote them. A comparatively smaller country like Sri Lanka has 14 organisations giving training in jackfruit value addition. In India, there is not even one,” he added.

Pankajakshan has urged the Kerala government to establish a board for the comprehensive development of jackfruit and its allied products. He said that the Kerala jackfruit had good demand in the domestic and international market since it is grown naturally without any management practices, including chemical fertilizers and pesticides.

“Unlike in Kerala, jackfruit is grown in farms in most places. When jackfruit is grown in the farms, the trees become susceptible to fungus attack and requires pesticides to control it. Here we have wild, uncultivated jackfruit varieties, and so they are even better than organic their counterparts,” he adds.

He said this will be a big boon to the farmers since they are finding major traditional crash crops unremunerative. “The demand of natural rubber is witnessing a steady decline due to the onslaught of synthetic rubber. Coconut production is coming down as trees are vulnerable to diseases.

“Hence jackfruit will have better market as the trees are able to withstand the changing climatic conditions. It’s a tree that doesn’t cheat its farmer,” adds Pankajakshan.

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