Prickly on the outside, when cut open, the ripe jackfruit sends out a mouth watering aroma that can invite anyone to relish it. The closely packed delicious golden bulbs are not only tasty but storehouses of vitamins, dietary fibre, minerals, antioxidants, anti-ageing substances and even anti-cancer.
Yet this fruit which is believed to have originated in the forests of Kerala is today largely discarded by its native people. Each year huge quantities of jackfruit are produced in the State. But good quantities of these are left to ripe and rot on the trees itself. A small quantity is exported to neighbouring States where those people have started to relish the fruit and tap its health properties.
One of the reasons for the Kerala apathy to this fruit is that now no one wants to devote time to cut the fruit and pluck out the bulbs which is a tedious and messy job. In other States where it is gaining popularity as a good fruit, the hard work of extracting the bulbs is done by the fruit vendors. In Kerala neither whole jackfruits nor the extracted bulbs are seen at any fruit stalls.
Fully sensing that the apathy towards this fruit is growing in Kerala, a group of people have joined hands to promote the jackfruit and enable it revive its past glory as a staple food of the State. These are people who understand that if the apathy is let to grow any further, the jackfruit tree can in the future turn into a high endangered species and even go extinct in the State.
Already there are many who have started considering the jackfruit tree as a nuisance in the compound and more inclined to tap the commercial value of its timber. Of late several trees had been felled for timber and this is causing concern, said C.D. Suneesh, secretary of Ruchi Farmers Network, a Wayanad based organisation devoted to promoting jackfruit consumption.
He said though it used to be an important local food, the jackfruit has not been included in the food security programme of the State. In fact the jackfruit may be the only true organic food available today in the State says Mr. Suneesh. This fruit from its tender stage, to the seasoned raw stage and ripe stage is food.
The ripe fruit has tremendous scope for value addition but is hardly taken up. Though here and there some value added products of the fruit could be seen at melas, these are not commercialised so as to enter the markets as a food product. Mr. Suneesh has taken up the idea of a Jackfruit Promotion Council with the State Planning Board and says that the response is positive.
Noted water journalist Shree Padre who is strongly promoting the jackfruit in Karnataka says that the fruit has “mega appeal”. Sri Lanka, he said, has converted the fruit into a staple food. The tender fruits called polos there (idichakka in Kerala) is a popular food item in that country. Sri Lanka also has quite a number of jackfruit value added products available at supermarkets.
Mr. Padre said that a Sri Lankan horticulture officer once told him that “Sri Lanka will never starve since we have about 50,000 hectares of jackfruit cultivation scattered everywhere in the country”. The trees in different parts of the country bear fruit at different periods of the year and so there is always jackfruit available in Sri Lanka.
Mr. Suneesh said that in Kerala too the tree bears fruit in different regions at different times and so the fruit is available in the State all through the year. After a recent jackfruit oriented visit to Sri Lanka, Mr. Suneesh said that there about fourteen institutes in Sri Lanka providing training on jackfruit value addition. He said that country even exports about twenty value added jackfruit products mainly to Australia, Canada and Germany.
“Sri Lankan institutes are also only too willing to impart their value addition skills to Kerala”, said Mr. Suneesh. Earlier this month Mr. Suneesh with Mr. Padre and farm journalist Balachandra Hegde were at Karunagapally near here to provide training in jackfruit value addition at a programme organised by the Kerala Rural Development Agency.
Mr. Suneesh said that the programme had gone a long way in reviving the past glory of the jackfruit. All jackfruit promotion programmes organised in the State are getting good response. It means that people have not forgotten the fruit. He said that more such programmes could ensure that the jackfruit makes a return as a staple food of the State once more.