Fathima Beevi grows nutmeg, coconut, plantain and other crops on her one-acre farm in Aluva municipality, Ernakulam district. But the pride of place on her farm goes to passion fruit vines, laden with purple and yellow fruits, covering nearly 15 cents. “I started cultivating it on a whim four years ago. It felt good to see it grow, flower and produce fruit. Last year, I sold nearly 15 kilograms of passion fruit,” gushes the 59-year-old, a full-time farmer.
She is among a growing number of passion fruit farmers in Kerala, which has picked up big time in the past five years. While many households grow the tropical fruit as part of homestead farming, it is now cultivated on a large scale in districts of Idukki, Ernakulam, Palakkad, Thrissur, Kozhikode, Kasaragod, Malappuram, Alappuzha, and Pathanamthitta.
PP Joy, former head of Pineapple Research Station, a centre under Kerala Agricultural University, Vazhakkulam, has conducted several studies and published papers on the fruit and its farming practices. He says many factors have contributed to the cultivation of passion fruit gaining ground in Kerala. “What gave it leverage was its nutritional and medicinal properties. It is rich in Vitamin A, C, potassium, fibre and other nutrients. The demand shot up after it was publicised that the fruit can increase platelet count in patients suffering from dengue. Although there are no official figures about the area of passion fruit cultivation in Kerala, our rough estimate is nearly 500 hectares,” he says.
What attracts growers to the fruit are its farmer-friendly aspects, says Shree Padre, noted farm journalist. “The fruit has enough shelf life and can be transported to far-off locations. I call it nature’s carton!” adds Shree.
The first step was taken by the Government Orange and Vegetable Farm, Nelliyampathy in Palakkad district. EK Yusuf, former superintendent of the farm, says, “Once we started getting good revenue from passion fruit squash sold through our counters, the area of cultivation was increased from two to 20 acres (in three years) and we diversified into products such as jam, jelly and pickle, now marketed under the brand name Fruitnel.” The cultivation now covers 40 acres and the entire harvest is used to make value-added products. “Since Nelliyampathy was severely hit by the recent floods, we are waiting for soil test results before we expand the cultivation,” adds Rejin Ram, agricultural officer of the farm.
Many farmers and farmers’ collectives visit the Farm to get first-hand information on cultivating and processing the fruit. Mahatma Farmers’ Club at Thrithala in Palakkad district is one. “We grow the fruit in one acre, spread across different households and the produce is sold at the farmers’ market at the farm,” says Harinarayanan PK, a member of the Club. Another example is Machanthodu Ward in Thachampara Panchayat of Palakkad, where over 80 houses are growing the vine under the ‘Muttathoru Passion fruit’ (A passion fruit in the courtyard) scheme. It will soon be expanded to the remaining 14 wards of the Panchayat, says Ubaidulla Edaikkal, a resident.
Plantation Corporation of Kerala (PCK) is another public sector enterprise in the passion fruit business. The Corporation now grows the fruit in 48 acres spread across 11 farms in Kerala, in the districts of Pathanamthitta, Ernakulam, Palakkad, Malappuram and Kasaragod. “We started cultivating on the vacant patches in our plantations, especially after the rubber prices crashed. Last fiscal, we could sell fruit and squash worth ₹45 lakhs,” says Sajeev U, general manager (Operations), PCK. The fruit usually fetches ₹80 and more for traders.
Malanad Passion Fruit Plantations, a major player in the field, started a farm on 10 acres at Puttady in Idukki three years ago. Now they cultivate it in 200 acres, reaching up to the Tamil Nadu border at Kambam in Theni district. “Besides selling fruit and squash, we also market passion fruit crush in cans for catering units. They serve it as a welcome drink at functions,” says Kennedy Peter, co-partner of the firm.
Planter’s Treasure in Kothamangalam, Ernakulam District, meanwhile, sells the juice as a premium product. The niche product comes as a ready-to-drink, preserve and concentrate in impressive, gift-worthy packages.
It’s a hybrid
Passionfruit is a native of Brazil. Purple and yellow are the commonly grown varieties. Kaveri, a hybrid variety (purple colour) developed by Indian Institute of Horticultural Research by crossing the purple and yellow varieties, is preferred for commercial plantation. Kerala Agricultural University has developed a purple variety, 134P. Passiflora ligularis or sweet granadilla, cultivated in areas such as Munnar, Kanthallur, Ooty and Kodaikanal, has the sweetest pulp among passion fruit varieties.
What can be made?
The pulp of purple variety is sweeter than that of the yellow one, a reason why the latter is preferred to make squash. The pulp is processed to make juice, syrup, concentrate, jam, wine and pickle. It is also used as topping or for flavouring cakes and desserts and in salads and yogurts. The juice can go into cocktails or can be mixed with other fruit juices. The rind can be pickled or can be cooked to make jelly.
Rashida Rejuva, former food technologist with Pineapple Research Station, Thrissur, led a team that made value-added products from passion fruit. “Pickle the pulp or the rind. Leave the rind in brine for four days to soften it. Then pickle it the same way you would make any pickle,” she says.