A farmer-entrepreneur group in Thottiyam markets solar-dried banana fruits
The temperature inside the greenhouse dryer, a solar energy-operated unit for drying banana, is hotter than the sweltering summer heat at Varadarajapuram village in Thottiyam.
And a couple of workers with gloves are seen neatly arranging the uniformly ripened banana on the trays and clearing the ones already dried. “The banana fruit has now turned into a chocolate,” says R.Dheenadayalan, a banana farmer-cum-entrepreneur.
The ‘chocolate banana’ initiative of a group of banana growers in and around Thottiyam might change the face of banana cultivation in the district.
Members of ‘Thottiam Banana Producers Group’ produce banana chocolate by floating their own company. The dryer worth Rs.8 lakh was donated to the company by K.R.G. and Bayer Material Science to promote value-added banana products.
The fruits are dried for three days continuously and the green house dryer has a capacity to dry 4,000 fruits or 25 tonnes. With Tiruchi district accounting for different varieties in banana, the fruits can be converted into different chocolates each with a distinct taste of its own, says Mr.Dheenadayalan, adding that presently only ‘poovan’ and ‘karpuravalli’ chocolates are available.
To attract consumers, entrepreneurs ensure that packaging is attractive and hygienic. Marketed under the brand name – Madhur solar dried banana – the product has been a hit with consumers in and around Thottiyam, Salem, and Namakkal.
“We can supply bulk quantities for marriages and temple ceremonies,” says Mr.Dheenadayalan. A. Subramanian alias Manikutty, another entrepreneur, says that a large number of banana growers in and around Thottiyam are supplying the fruits to the company.
The solar drying can be uniform, only if the fruits are ripened uniformly. The District Development Manager, National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development, S.Suresh Kumar, pointed out that the primary agricultural cooperative credit society in Varadarajapuram kick started the setting up of the solar dryer. The NABARD has set up a cooling and ripening unit at the society’s premises at an estimate of Rs. 32.14 lakh. While the NABARD sanctioned Rs. 28 lakh under the ‘producers organisation development fund’ scheme, the Central cooperative bank released a loan of Rs.4.14 lakh. “We collect a nominal fee from the farmers towards cooling and ripening for 24 hours,” says S.Saravanan, secretary of the society.
After the fruits are ripened uniformly, the hands are taken to the solar dryer unit where the banana skin is removed and dried for three days.
Moisture content makes the fruit easily perishable. Taiwanese technology uses solar heat ranging between 50 and 55 degree Celsius for totally and uniformly clearing the moisture and extending its shelf life, says K.K.Selvaraj, managing director, Tiruchi District Central Cooperative Union.
A cross section of farmers say that adequate support from the State government in the form of subsidy and supply of fruits at anganwadis and noon meal centres will go a long way in ensuring a wider market for the product. The initiative will help bring down post-harvest loss, a major problem in banana cultivation.