“In Kerala there is a saying, ‘If Jackfruit wins, Kerala wins’. At the moment, approximately 50,000 tonnes of jackfruit are sold to other states, some reaching till the Nepal border,” Shree Padre, editor of the iconic Kannada agricultural magazine Adike Patrike, says.
According to the noted agricultural activist, although the entire country claims to love the fruit, neither the Centre nor any state had taken any positive action over the years.
“Until now only lip service was being offered by various agencies and governments. But the Kerala government’s initiative shows that they have realised the potential and challenges, and have a roadmap for the fruit’s development,” Shree Padre said.
The 62-year-old 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.
Although the fruit was produced in the country in abundance, there were no centres to train people on value addition, packaging, promotion and channelisation of its products. Shree Padre laments that the size of wastage of jackfruit in the country was of ‘criminal proportions’.
“In comparison, our neighbour Sri Lanka has 14 organisations meant exclusively for the promotion of jackfruit,” Padre says.
According to Padre, who has over 15 years of research on jackfruit under his belt, the development and promotion of jackfruit requires a multi-prolonged approach: first to increase its domestic per capita consumption. Then to teach people how to sell and market jackfruit in India and elsewhere. He says the best way to market both locally and internationally would be by promoting Ready to Eat (RTE) and Ready to Cook (RTC) products.
“In the context of Kerala, it is no longer a seasonal fruit and is available round the year in different regions. Keralites have also proved beyond doubt that there is no dearth of recipes or products that can be made out of the jackfruit. Moreover, the quantum of jackfruit production in the country is unparalleled, therefore there must be an exclusive training and grooming centre to support the industry,” he says.
Padre says a few south Indian food manufacturers and MILMA have already made headway in the promotion of the RTE and RTC products such as jackfruit chips, ice cream, cutlets, smoothies, juices and so on.
One of the authoritative voices on the fruit who is known internationally, Padre says he is not surprised by Kerala’s move to declare the jackfruit as the state fruit.
“Unlike Karnataka and Tamil Nadu, who are at least a decade away when it comes to awareness about jackfruit, in Kerala it’s not just hype, it is an expression of people’s feelings. In the last 10 years alone, there have been over 100 jackfruit events that were organised not by the government but by locals. There have been marginal groups who are surviving today because of the fruit. Therefore, one can see through their emotions attached to it,” he says.
However, Padre cautions that growers must not rely solely on jackfruit events and fairs as a sustainable model. “At such places, people easily dip their hands in the pocket and buy out of sympathy. The real test of the product comes in the market, where people ask 15 questions before making a purchase,” he says.
Unfortunately, Padre adds, the jackfruit is highly under-researched and its low glycemic index and gluten-free properties remain untapped.
“It is highly beneficial for diabetics; there is a great demand for similar food products in western countries and in the Gulf. In its frozen form, the fruit can be easily transported and marketed in developed nations and this can reap tremendous benefits for producers and promoters,” the ‘International Diplomat for Jackfruit’, appointed by the Thiruvananthapuram-based Jackfruit Promotion Council and Santhigram Institutions, says.
However, the major impediment for the development and promotion of jackfruit, he says, was the producers’ inferiority complex associated with the fruit. Padre speculates this may be because the fruit is available in abundance or because it grows without any effort. People, despite relishing the fruit, disassociated themselves from its production.
“But with the endorsement of jackfruit by Kerala, the inferiority complex should melt away, although this is an ant-like solution for an elephantine problem. Only Kerala, Karnataka and Maharashtra are contributing to the value addition of the fruit. On the global map, we are nowhere,” he says.
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