Tropical fruit trees fetch rich rewards for cultivators in Central Travancore

It’s the season of exotic fruits in Central Travancore now.

In May agents of traders, mostly from Tamil Nadu, visit the households in the villages, booking trees of mangosteen, rambutan, pulasan, and durian, even in the early flowering stages, at competitive prices.

The water-rich river basins of the Pampa, Manimala and Achencoil in the district are suitable for the cultivation of the tropical fruit trees. The legendary Malayalam writer Vaikom Muhammad Basheer had celebrated mangosteen in his work ‘Under the Mangosteen Tree’. The small village of Eraviperoor near Thiruvalla is known as the heartland of mangosteen in Central Travancore.

Traders say Pathanamthitta provides a major share of the State’s mangosteen production and more than 60 per cent of the district’s mangosteen crop comes from Eraviperoor and the surrounding villages.

P.V. Chacko of Plavelil in Eraviperoor owns one of the major and richest mangosteen gardens in the region. It was P.C. Varkey, grandfather of Mr. Chacko, who had introduced mangosteen to Eraviperoor, almost a century back, according to the villagers. A 95-year-old mangosteen tree grown by him is still standing in full bloom in the garden of Plavelil house.

Good prospects

Keeping strong faith in the monetary prospects of this Malaysian fruit, Varkey had left his teacher’s job to concentrate on exotic fruit farming. He took much pain, exploring the market for mangosteen in Tamil Nadu, besides popularising its cultivation in his own village. He had replaced his one-acre rubber plantation with mangosteen. The present generation of this visionary peasant has now started reaping the fruits of his hard work, says his grandson.

Mr. Chacko, now has 60 fruit-bearing mangosteen trees, 20 pulasan trees, and a few durian trees in his garden. He had sold mangosteen worth Rs.9.5 lakh last year. A 65-year-old durian tree in his garden gives 600 to 800 fruits a year. He sold durian fruits worth Rs.97,000 this year. He also gets handsome revenue from the pulasan trees as well as from his nursery that sells good quality saplings.

Native to Malaysia, Indonesia and Brunei, durian is distinctive for its size, unique odour, and thorny cover.

Durian costs Rs.400 to Rs.500 a kg in Indian market while it costs as much as $12 in the U.S. where it is used for preparing juice, says Dr. Thomas P. Thomas, Associate Professor in Botany at Kozhencherry St. Thomas College.

Rambutan too has its origin in Indonesia which is cultivated extensively in Malaysia, the Philippines, Thailand, India, Australia, and Sri Lanka. Flesh of this small, red-and-yellow fruit with spiky hair on the skin is sweet and juicy. Rich in carbohydrates, protein, vitamin-C, fibre, etc., rambutan is also used as a traditional medicine in Malaysia and Indonesia, says Dr. Thomas. Rambutan costs Rs.150 to Rs.200 a kg in the Kerala market.

Pulasan closely resembles rambutan and is sometimes confused with the latter. The juicy flesh of this Malaysian fruit is more sweet and it separates easily from the seed, which is also edible.

Cultivation of pulasan is picking up in Eraviperoor and the surrounding villages as people are realising its export potential.

Marketing hub

Konni is known as the marketing hub of various Malaysian fruits collected from different parts of the district. Ponnachan, a trader from Konni, says that the mangosteen, pulasan, rambutan and durian collected from different parts of the region were transported in bulk to Thenkasi and Chennai. Mangosteen that costs Rs.250 to Rs.300 a kg in Kerala retail market is sold at Rs.400 to Rs.550 outside the State, he says. K.K. Gopinatha Kurup, retired college principal, is of the opinion that the State government should extend a helping hand to the farmers who are at the mercy of the agents of traders from Tamil Nadu for the marketing of these exotic fruits having very high export potential.

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