Agricultural journalist Shree Padre campaigns for the humble jackfruit to be back in the Indian meal
For six years now, agricultural journalist Shree Padre has been working to overturn one paradox: in lands where jackfruit is produced in abundance, it is wasted in abundance too; but when hoteliers conduct jackfruit festivals, plates are wiped clean in no time. “It’s not that there aren’t jackfruit lovers in our country,” says Padre, “It’s either that the jackfruit is considered too cumbersome to process at home, or that it is perceived in a bad light.”
Prior to Padre’s ardent jackfruit campaign, he was involved with the rain-water harvesting movement, encouraging non-chemical farming methods such as vermicomposting and was also one of the earliest to sound the alarm on Kerala’s endosulfan tragedy. All this through his 25 years as editor of Adike Patrike, a Kannada agricultural magazine written by farmers and circulated among the farming community in seven districts around Puttur in South Karnataka. For his work, he was recently awarded the fourth Disha Green Globe Award 2013, a biennial award conferred by Kochi-based NGO Disha Global.
“I’m not a jackfruit gobbler,” confesses Padre. “But I am passionate about it because in India, we experience so many anxieties over food. It is then criminal that we waste approximately 75 per cent of the jackfruit we produce.” The problem, Padre observes, is that a clear-cut picture of the cultivation area of jackfruit in India is difficult to estimate. In most farms in Kerala, Karnataka and Maharashtra, jackfruit trees are often scattered across the plot but rarely actively cultivated. But all three states have a rich history and variety of jackfruit. “Keralites won’t forget jackfruit easily. When other crops failed, this was the staple,” he says.
In Vidharbha, Maharashtra, Padre says farmers who had invested in a handful of jackfruit trees survived the recent drought better than their counterparts did. “A fecund jackfruit tree fetches a farmer Rs. 2,000 to Rs. 5,000. All that the tree requires in return is periodic flood irrigation and one or two manure applications,” he says. Moreover, the sale of jackfruit increases when it is even minimally processed. “It’s important to reduce the gap between mouth and hand. Thus vendors who simply cut and chopped the jackfruit into bulbs and applied lime to prevent browning, increased their sales by 50 per cent,” he says.
In this regard, technology has come to jackfruit’s rescue. Jackfruit evangelists such as Joseph Luckose and James Joseph have been actively involved in processing and packaging jackfruit for later use. “Just by dehydrating jackfruit, we are able to readily use it in homes. The ripe jackfruit should be reintroduced as a table fruit and the raw jackfruit can be used just as vegetable is. In its pulped version, it can be used to make ice-cream, pappad, rolls etc. Once you teach the housewife the potential of jackfruit pulp, the imagination is your limit in terms of recipes. Serving it at high-end hotels also lends an aspirational value to the common-man’s fruit.” Padre adds that pulping jackfruit could additionally provide employment and income for labourers during the months that the fruit isn’t harvested.
Adike Patrike has also been instrumental in Padre’s jackfruit campaign. It has collected success stories from across the world, especially nations such as Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Vietnam and Philippines through its “pen-to-the-farmer” process, where those who farm are taught to write their stories. “We ventured into this kind of ‘self-help journalism’ because we found that agricultural journalism till then was such that those who wrote didn’t farm and those who farmed didn’t write,” says Padre.
With farmers themselves narrating their difficulties and success, the approach to journalism grew more hands-on and readers were even able to replicate farmers’ experiences. “Just as tapioca has had a second-coming in Indian homes, the day that India doesn’t waste jackfruit is the one I’m looking forward to,” closes Padre.