For many people a festival on jackfruit would seem like an event for a few crazy people. But the first National Jackfruit Festival, held at Thiruvanathapuram in early June, attracted millions of visitors.
The jackfruit has a mega appeal. There were stalls laden with all kinds of pioneering products made from jackfruit. There was jackfruit payasam, jackfruit cutlet, jackfruit sandwich, jackfruit dosa and jackfruit halwa, hot from the stove. There was also a novel jackfruit ice cream.
You could choose from hundreds of packaged recipes and scores of other jackfruit products with a long shelf-life.
These innovative products were not made by big manufacturers and multinationals but by small producers – farmers, self-help groups (SHGs), housewives, cooperatives and local companies.
The instant reaction of visitors to this splendid jackfruit display was one of utter disbelief. “I never imagined that so many products could be made from jackfruit,” they exclaimed.
Since the past five years several peoples' groups have been making strenuous efforts to bring the jackfruit into the limelight. (See Civil Society, August 2010).
They have been doing this by holding jackfruit fairs. Three NGOs, Uravu in Wayanad in Kerala, and BIRD in Tiptur as well as the Kadamba Marketing Souharda Sahakari Ltd in Sirsi, Karnataka, have organised annual jackfruit fairs. So has the University of Agriculture Sciences in Bangalore. So far, more than three dozen jackfruit fairs have been held in Kerala and Karnataka.
These smaller fairs finally culminated in the National Jackfruit Festival which succeeded in bringing jackfruit farmers, activists, scientists, NGOs and government organizations from Kerala and Karnataka on a single platform. Ken Love, President of the Hawaii Fruit Growers Association, who came all the way to participate in the festival, became a star attraction at the event.
“Jackfruit is the key for local food security. But we have to put in more effort to ensure that it provides security to small farmers and discourages them from selling farms out of frustration,” he says.
Jackfruit is a real Kalpavriksh ( divine wish-fulfilling tree). It can mitigate the hunger of an entire family. All its parts are very useful. But sadly, though India is one of the top producers of jackfruit, nearly 60 percent of it is allowed to go waste. For us, jackfruit is a forgotten Kalpavriksh. On the contrary, see what a Sri Lankan horticulture officer proudly says: “Sri Lanka will never starve since we have about 50,000 hectares of jackfruit cultivation scattered everywhere in the island.”
Paradoxically, we in India, have just about a dozen companies manufacturing branded jackfruit products. Many universities and research organizations are claiming that that have standardized a few value- added products. But none so far has been commercialized!
Against this dismal performance, the efforts of the Krishi Vijnan Kendra, (KVK), Pathnamthitta, Kerala stands out. Their stall in the festival had more than 20 jackfruit products for sale. The Kendra has recently started a community preservation centre. It is giving training in jackfruit value addition and has helped some women's groups in product development, labelling, packaging and branding.
INNOVATORS and producers
Dr Meera Suresh, one such successful trainee, is manufacturing a few jackfruit products in her spare time under the brand name, ‘Yummy.' Her products like jackfruit wrapped in wild cinnamon leaves and fruit bulbs in honey have very good demand.
The Group Rural Agricultural Marketing Association, (GRAMA), an SHG from Kottayam has been producing over 30 jackfruit products which it sells at local fairs and festivals. A small percentage is bought by dealers and exporters.
“Products should consist of a fairly good portion of jackfruit. Instead of transporting the ingredients and end products to far off places, we should be able to sell them easily,” says Joseph Lukose, president of GRAMA.
James P. Mathew is a farmer from Palakkad whose family has been striving to put jackfruits to better use since the last nine years. His dehydrated unripe flakes and unripe jack flour was used as ingredients to make dishes for seminar participants and was widely appreciated. The moot point is that farmers themselves are converting jackfruit into food products for local use.
“Jack flake flour and jack seed flour will have an export market because they are gluten free, nutritious and a variety of breakfast items like dosas and desserts can be made from them,” says Ken Love.
Kamath's of Natural Ice-Cream, Mumbai, have pioneered jackfruit ice-cream. They personally served their prime ice-cream to all the seminar participants. Smaller manufacturers have also started making jackfruit ice-cream. Milma, Kerala's cooperative giant, has been inspired to launch its own version of jackfruit ice-cream.
Dr R.B. Tiwari, research scientist from the Indian Institute of Horticulture Research, made a presentation on osmo-dehydration, a technology which could be useful for farmers, SHGs and small producers. “You can convert jackfruit into high- concentrated, low volume products. It is important to select the right type of fruits for this technology.”
A trendsetter product has just being launched by Sara Spices, a unit of the Anna Group of companies in Kerala. Their ready-to-cook tender jackfruit packed neatly in aluminum foil is produced with technology from the Defence Food Research Laboratory in Mysore. The product has one year's shelf life without use of preservatives.
“You can make many types of curries with this product. We are looking for good dealers outside Kerala too,” says Santhosh who is the export manager of the Anna Group. The company sells around 200,000 packets of jackfruit varatty (halwa) and jackfruit ada (cake) every year. Some of it is exported to countries in the Gulf.
It is the lack of organized marketing and the absence of a reliable supply chain that is preventing farmers from getting a fair price for jackfruit. Panruti is the only exception where farmers are getting a market and assured returns for jackfruit.
Till such arrangements are built up, value addition seems to be the only way of getting better returns. Ken Love demonstrated a simple way to produce jackfruit preserve in bottles without using chemical preservatives. “This can be kept at room temperatures for years altogether and can be sold easily,” he says.
“Don't be afraid to talk to big persons,” he advised farmers. “Go, approach five-star hotel chefs and suggest that they use jackfruit in their menu. If that happens, slowly but steadily, it will open up an altogether new door for you. You will be able to market jackfruit to high- income customers.”
The jackfruit festival was organised by Santhigram, an NGO in Thiruvanthapuram along with three dozen private and government organizations including the National Horticulture Mission and NABARD.
“What we have realized is that people have a lot of hope in jackfruit. No doubt it is a forgotten Kalpavriksha but if we remind them about its importance, they will accept the fruit with more enthusiasm,” says L.Pankajakshan, director, Santhigram. “While hosting this mega event we got so involved with jackfruit that we simply can't forget about it after the festival,” he says. “We are lobbying with the government to organize jackfruit festivals in one panchayat of each district every year. There is this whimsical order that prevents anybody from planting jackfruit and mango trees on roadsides and public places. We will try to influence the administration to change this order and to plant jackfruit trees on environment day on a large scale.”
A website, www.jackfruitfest.org, launched during the festival will now be used for jackfruit development. Professor K.V. Thomas, Minister of State for Agriculture, Consumer Affairs, Food & Public Distribution, in his inaugural speech said he would be organizing a jackfruit festival in New Delhi very soon.
L. Pankajakshan, director, Santhigram: 0471- 2269780 firstname.lastname@example.org
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