Big fruit, bigger prospects

Big fruit, bigger prospects

Crop for the future

Big fruit, bigger prospects

As one walks across the fields of Kachalli village in Tubugere hobli of Doddaballapur taluk, one cannot but notice dry thorny plants covering the trunks of some jackfruit trees like a mesh. “Each fruit is precious for us as it brings good income,” says Suresh, an enthusiastic jackfruit grower in the village. G C Manjanna of Gantiganahalli can’t agree more. Income from his jackfruit tree has increased considerably in the last one decade. When he realised that he could earn about Rs 25,000 by selling fruits from his 50-year-old tree, he planted 15 more seedlings eight years ago. “Once we realised the importance and utility value of these trees, we started treating them like kids,” says M G Ravikumar of Melekote village.

From backyard to mainstream
These farmers are members of the Tubugere Jackfruit Growers Association (TJGA) that was formed in 2008 with support from the Rural Bio-Resource Complex project of the University of Agricultural Sciences, Bengaluru (UASB). It was the vision of
Dr K Narayana Gowda, former vice-chancellor of UASB, who led the project, to form an association and facilitate utilisation of the unique bio-resource of the region in the right manner. First such association in the country, TJGA has helped growers come together and learn necessary skills to tap the market potential of the fruit, thus changing their perceptions about it. Old-timers recall, “Not long ago, the fruits were the staple of cattle and monkeys. Though some used to lease out the yield to middlemen at a throwaway price, a large share of the yield would go waste. We hardly considered it as a crop.”

There are over 3,000 trees in the 74 villages of Tubugere hobli. While the utility value and nutritive properties of jackfruit are well known today, Tubugere jackfruits are also famous for their distinct taste, colour and sweetness. Some of the popular varieties found here are red rudrakshi, yellow rudrakshi and chandra halasu. “We can see white, cream and different shades of yellow and orange jackfruit bulbs in Tubugere. The fruits with shades of orange and red are special to this region, and are called red-fleshed. Such colour diversity is not found in other regions of Karnataka,” says Dr S Shyamalamma, a professor at UASB, who has worked extensively to identify and propagate good jackfruit varieties in the State. Of the 105 varieties identified by Shyamalamma’s team for propagation, 12 are from Tubugere hobli. While the normal sweetness in jackfruit is about 26O Brix, fruits of some trees in Tubugere region have up to 32O Brix sweetness. Shyamalamma opines that the quality of fruits grown in dry land is always better compared to the ones grown in irrigated lands or regions with high rainfall.

“The money earned from a tree is about 10 times more than before,” reveals M G Ravikumar, secretary of the association. While each household here owns one or two trees that are many decades old, we can see 10-15 young trees on the borders of the farms or in small plots. Of late, as water scarcity looms large in the region, impacting farming, villagers are considering jackfruit as a viable alternative crop. “Jackfruit requires water and nourishment only for six to seven years. It is a drought-resistant crop that can withstand adverse weather conditions,” says Suresh.

The availability of grafted plants that yield early compared to the trees grown from seeds has proved to be beneficial for those who want to develop exclusive jackfruit plots. “Unlike seed-grown trees, chances of retaining the characteristics of the mother plant are very high in grafted trees,” says Shyamalamma. Some of the farmers have been trained in bud-grafting, which is most suitable for jackfruit.

TJGA has 120 members. A core team — comprising Kachalli Narasimhaiah, the president of the association, Ravikumar, Suresh, Muniraju etc — has been coordinating the activities of the association. The total yield of jackfruit in the region is approximately 150 tonnes. Income from jackfruit sale in the region has increased from Rs four lakh in 2008 to Rs 30 lakh in 2016. With better awareness and tie-ups, the growers now sell their fruits both through the association and directly.

Last year, Rs 15 lakh of the total Rs 30 lakh transaction was through the association. The team ensures that all the members get equal opportunity to sell their produce. The members have been supplying fruits to food industries like Natural Ice Cream. “It is difficult for farmers to sell the fruits individually. Also, we get cheated by middlemen easily,” says Kempasiddappa, who has earned Rs 65,000 from his eight trees last year. Another farmer puts it thus, “Earlier, we used to count the number of trees; now we count the fruits.” The growers have realised that the sale of jackfruit bulbs brings them maximum money. There are instances of growers earning over Rs 2,000 from one fruit. Their proximity to Bengaluru and tourist places like Nandi Hills and Ghati Subramanya Temple has proved to be advantageous. As a result, the farmers don’t waste even a single fruit.

Adding value
Halasu Melas (jackfruit festivals) organised in different jackfruit-growing regions of the State play a crucial role in networking growers from different places. Consider the example of TJGA. While the members started tasting the sweet success at the jackfruit fests organised in Ghati Subramanya and Hadonahalli in 2008 and 2009 respectively, allotment of a stall to the association at the annual Mango and Jackfruit Mela in Lalbagh in 2010 was a breakthrough. Since then, they have been participating in the month-long Lalbagh Mela every year, and proudly say that they struggle to meet the demand.

While over 15 jackfruit festivals happen in the State every year, this team participates in about 10 festivals. The association has cashed in on the demand for fresh fruits at the festivals, and claims that people queue up to buy Tubugere jackfruit even in other jackfruit-growing regions. It is not just the quality of the fruit, but also the team’s skill to supply the right fruit, and its stress on hygienic and attractive packing that have made these fruits the most sought-after at such events. Over the last one decade, Tubugere jackfruit has emerged as a brand and growers are not able to meet the ever-growing demand for the fruits.

Jackfruit festivals not only provide these farmer groups a platform to showcase their best varieties, but also facilitate sharing of knowledge. For example, women in Kachalli are now well-versed in making jackfruit products like chips and papad, once limited to Malnad and coastal regions. About 80% trees in Tubugere region yield good fruits. Jackfruits from other trees are used for value addition. The members of Divyajyothi self-help group in Kachalli are trained in making products from all edible parts of jackfruit, and prepare chips, papad, mixture, squash, halwa etc.

Navaneethamma, the group’s leader, says, “What started as an additional activity has become the mainstay during the season.” The growers acknowledge the constant support and technical guidance provided by Hadonahalli Krishi Vigyan Kendra, headed by Dr K N Srinivasappa. The formation of a youth association recently, under the Attracting and Retaining Youth in Agriculture (ARYA) project, has given a boost to the jackfruit growers of the region. Following the success of TJGA, about 10 growers associations pertaining to various crops have been formed in the hobli. 

Inspired by TJGA, a couple of such associations have been formed in Tumakuru and Chikkamagaluru districts too. While the growers in the region are proud of their bio-heritage, Shyamalamma points at a recent trend, “Now, farmers here are not ready to show their plants for identification of good varieties. Under the Protection of Plant Varieties and Farmers Rights Act, the varieties are registered in the name of the farmers and they get a royalty for it. In spite of this provision, we have identified only 10% of the good varieties in the region so far. If the growers do not join hands, many cherished fruits may disappear with the trees.”

Hotspots of red-fleshed jackfruit
Tubugere and Tumakuru are the two regions in the State that have a wide variety of unique red-fleshed jackfruit with shades ranging from light orange to red. As per estimates, these two regions have a concentration of about 10% of red-fleshed jackfruit. Shree Padre, a jackfruit campaigner, says, “There is great potential for exploitation as these fruits have high consumer acceptance compared with yellow ones, for reasons unknown. Much research has not been done on the genetic wealth of these red-fleshed jackfruit hotspots. Proper study and promotion can make India the biggest producer of this type of jackfruit.”