A fruit for all seasons

AGRICULTURE

A fruit for all seasons

jack for all times  A jackfruit farm coming up at Toobugere. Photo by the author

“A mango orchard yields a good harvest only if we spray insecticides twice a year. But jackfruit farms don’t require that kind of attention. Once the jackfruit saplings cross five years, it is a zero-attention crop,” says farmer R S Nagaraj of Toobugere in Doddaballapur taluk. He realised the potential of jackfruit almost a decade ago. He has planted jackfruit as a single crop on his 75 cents of land. The trees have started yielding fruit over the last three years. 

Last year, he made a profit of Rs 15,000 by selling fruits to local middlemen. A member of Toobugere Jackfruit Growers’ Association (TJGA), probably the only such organisation in the country, he hopes to market fruits through the association.

Nagaraj is convinced about jackfruit cultivation enough to coax his elder brother Prakash to plant jackfruit trees on his 12-acre coconut farm. “However severe the drought is, jackfruit never fails a farmer. The barest minimum that a tree would fetch is Rs 500,” he points out.

Toobugere Jackfruit Growers’ Association Secretary M G Ravikumkar makes a profit of Rs 3,500 to 4,000 a year from an old jackfruit tree his grandmother planted many years ago. He sells the fruitlets at local santhes (fairs). His son Harshithkumar is a ninth standard student. From the last ten years, Ravikumar is investing all the money from jackfruit cultivation in an insurance scheme for his son.  

R S Nagaraj has no regrets for taking up jackfruit cultivation.Lucrative crop
Ravi advises fellow-farmers to plant at least 10 jackfruit saplings to border his fields. The trees will start to yield fruit from the seventh year onwards. Over the last two-three years, at least 30-40 small farmers at Toobugere have planted jackfruit trees in their 10-15 gunta lands. The Association produces thousands of jackfruit plants every year and the demand is increasing. Rural Bio Resource Complex (RBRC), a five-year project under Central Bio-technology Department, taken up by the University of Agriculture Sciences (UAS), Bangalore is coming to an end this year. It covers 8,340 families of 75 villages in five panchayats of Toobugere hobli in Bangalore Rural district. Under the project, selected sustainable technologies are transferred to farmers. The cultivation practices and marketing systems are improved with a view of increasing farmers’ confidence by facilitating them to earn more. Formation of TJGA and offering better marketing opportunities is one out of many interventions of the project.

Tie-up with Hopcoms
The University has linked TJGA with Hopcoms. As a result, the association pools in and brings the jackfruit to Bangalore for direct sale at Hopcoms. As against a paltry Rs 25 - 50 for a fruit they were getting earlier, the farmers now get Rs six a kilogram at Hopcoms. An average fruit of 15-20 kilos now fetches them anywhere between Rs 70 and Rs 100.
According to K Narayana Gowda, co-ordinator of the project, the total income from sale of jackfruit earlier was Rs five lakh. Now it has risen to Rs 15 lakh – a three-fold hike. Last year, middlemen too started paying better rates to attract the fruits to their fold. Another benefit was opening the possibility of direct retail sales to the farmer. The UAS-organised jackfruit fairs offer a good platform for farmers to sell the fruitlets by count. Babu RM Ray, Research Associate, RBRC, points out the case of Kachahalli Siddappa who brought 50-60 jackfruits to the jack fair held at Lalbagh last year. He returned home with Rs 24,000.  

Labour problem another reason
There are instances of farmers uprooting their eucalyptus plantations to make way for jackfruit. The worsening labour problem also makes them opt for jackfruit cultivation.
Not only is it the least laborious, but also drought-resistant as compared to other dryland horticultural crops like mango, guava etc. The incidence of pest and disease is negligible. Though none has looked at it that way, jackfruit maybe the highest produced organic food of the country.

According to Gowda, though the University hasn’t developed a ‘package of practices’ for jackfruit, a 40 X 40 feet spacing is ideal for raising a jackfruit orchard. In about 10 years, these trees would fetch Rs 2,000 to 3,000 per tree. After two decades, it would earn Rs one lakh from an acre.

Slowly, farmers are realising the commercial importance of jackfruit. It has a very high timber value too. If they are able to take their fruit to consumers, there is always a good demand and higher price waiting. This is where the role of the Association comes in.  
“In the present situation, a farmer growing 100 fruits can’t individually afford to take his produce to the faraway city. The one and only way of protecting jackfruit growers’ interests is to form growers’ associations at the hobli level,” says Gowda emphatically. “This would open up opportunities to pool the produce and bypass the middlemen.”
However, not many in the horticulture department and the government seem to have realised the potential of this crop. The National Horticulture Mission hasn’t included jackfruit in its priority list. Policy makers haven’t given sufficient mandate to research organisations towards building gene pools at local level, studies on cold storage and minimal processing of jackfruits and to explore export potential.

A giant Vietnamese company has expressed its keenness to import Indian jackfruits, but that hasn’t been taken forward. Amidst all the neglect, slowly, more farmers are taking up jackfruit cultivation.

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