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International Jackfruit Festival: Saving the Jack of fruits

Deccan Chronicle 2017-08-13 01:18:00

WAYANAD: Jackfruit experts from nine nations along with scientists, fruit lovers, fruit vendors, traders, environmentalists and health activists are brainstorming at the Regional Agriculture Research Station (RARS), Ambalavayal, here, on how to save the giant fruit from the existing ostracism in the rich-man’s menu and utilizing the entire crop every year of which more than 80 percent is currently wasted. Experts presented 38 research papers shedding light on ways to exploit the virtues of the fruit which has the potential to play a pivotal role in the nation’s food and nutritional security. 

The fest showcases more than 200 products including popular items like Chakka halwa, payasam, mixture, toffees, vinegar, chakka varattiyathu and processed tender jack which would soon be a replacement for meat for vegetarians.   RARS has already established a germplasm of 68 jackfruit accessions, but the enthusiasm of farmers is not very inspiring.  The six-day fest which will conclude on Monday, focuses on all aspects including supply of quality seedlings, farming, nurturing, introducing value addition techniques, packing and marketing.  At the venue, jackfruit is omnipresent. One can spot jackfruit trees everywhere. Children enjoying jackfruit toffees moved around. Ice cream vendors sold chakka ice cream and chakka payasam was served in different outlets. A chakka sadya with 12 dishes was also served at the venue. More than hundred varieties of the fruit were exhibited.  

Though the demand for promoting jackfruit in a big way was in the air for almost a decade, there is a feeling among jackfruit lovers that the discrimination towards the big fruit still lingers at higher levels of the administration.  Though journalists like Sri Padre continue to write about the multi-faceted potential of the fruit for more than a decade, and organizations like Uravu, the centre that focuses on the promotion of indigenous knowledge and skills in Wayanad, conducts the jackfruit fest every year since 2006, the state has wasted ten years without doing anything fruitful to tap the potential.  Jackfruit lovers now pin their hopes on the enthusiasm of agriculture minister V.S. Sunilkumar who has the spirit of a farmer.   

On the sidelines of the festival RARS, director Dr P. Rajendran told  DC that despite the  nutritional and medicinal value of the fruit  and the economic and environmental importance of the tree itself, not much attention  has been paid to it. The jack is one of the most solar efficient trees, which in a five-year period, adds 12 per cent organic carbon to the soil, which is equivalent to 40 tonnes of carbon”, he said. “With this workshop we aim at promoting jack farming among farmers and also popularizing value addition and marketing techniques”, he added. The festival has been organized under the joint auspices of RARS, Ambalavayal under the Department of Agriculture, Indian Council for Agricultural Research and the International Tropical Fruits’ Network and International Society for South East Asian Agricultural Science. The major impediment cited for commercialization of the fruit is lack of training, equipment and techniques for post harvest handling and processing. The jackfruit pulp itself could be a raw material for more than a dozen commercial products like jam, fruit bar, squash and pulp power toffee, drum dried sheets/flakes etc.

Plant fruit trees to ensure  zero hunger in future: Hassim

“If you want zero hunger and sustainable development, plant fruit trees”, said Mohd Desa Hassim, chief executive officer of International Tropical Fruits Network, an NGO engaged in jackfruit promotion. Based in Indonesia, the organization has its presence in 34 countries with 245 honorary members.
Mr Hassim told DC that promotion of fruits like jackfruit was essential for food security. "In the era of climate change we should think of an era without rice. So promote fruit bearing trees that are also able to withstand hostile climatic conditions. Currently, the price of tropical fruits are increasing because of the growing demand and reduced production”, he said.

Mohd Desa Hassim is of the opinion that the government should promote jackfruit farming on wastelands. Private-public partnerships could be promoted.
On the strategy in Malaysia for promoting fruits, Mr Hassim said that it was ideal to select a few varieties of fruits as the quality and processing methods of each varied. “The whole system of the country should be alert for the mission”, he said. “The promotion demands research to develop new high yielding and pest resistant varieties, designing equipment, planning marketing strategy and developing a support network”, he added. Mohd Desa Hassim is  participating in the  jackfruit festival with a three-member team.

A successful saga to save the big fruit

Subhash Koroth, 33, an engineer-turned-entrepreneur from Taliparamba, Kannur is a lively presence at the jackfruit festival venue. He moves from one stall to another and also attends the expert sessions on value addition.

Love for jackfruit led this youth to countries like Indonesia and Vietnam where he visited jackfruit processing factories in his quest for technology in value addition. Now he owns one of the few modern jackfruit processing factories of the country, after investing Rs 1.3 crore. Started in 2015, his company Artocarpus Food Pvt Ltd. processes up to 10,000 jackfruits per month, supplying jackfruit products as raw material to many food industry majors.

RARS to become international  jackfruit research centre

RARS will soon be promoted as an international jackfruit research centre with the support of the central government. Jackfruit processing units would be started in every district. According to a study of Kerala Agricultural University the state has a jackfruit wealth which is worth enough to produce value added products worth Rs 15,000 crore.  We are yet to tap even 10 percent of the potential.