A handful of years back, a time when it was not declared the official fruit of Kerala, jackfruit used to be a humble crop without any commercial status. Every rural homestead with the tree had rotten yellow puddles under it as the fruit had nearly zero market value.
And when Veliyam Rajeev, an advocate by profession, axed hundreds of rubber trees to plant jackfruit saplings, his neighbours were shocked. It took him more than three years to convert the entire rubber plantation into a jackfruit farm, but the lawyer-turned-farmer had the last laugh when his trees started yielding and currently he is unable to meet the demand.
“The expanding rubber plantations had been corrupting the natural properties of our soil and I planted jackfruit saplings for a more sustainable land use. Rubber trees were leaving our lands sterile, wrecking the balance of our ecosystem,” says Mr. Rajeev.
At present Tapovan Jacks, the 4-acre farm at Veliyam, has 10 different indigenous varikka varieties along with hybrids. With long rows of small trees, many of them bearing fruits, the farm is expected to produce huge volumes of the crop in two years.
“Right now we have over 400 trees and within a couple of years jackfruit will become a staple in Kerala. During the last two years jackfruit has emerged as a super food for its multiple health benefits,” he says.
He adds that the biggest challenge in tapping the marketing potential of the fruit is ensuring its texture and taste.
“The crispiness and sugar content cannot be predicted, so branding becomes very important if you want to cater a quality-assured product,” he says.
Among the many indigenous varieties are Chembaruthi varikka that looks more red than yellow and Muttam varikka with round, extra-sweet bulbs. The saplings were carefully sourced from many parts and Mr.Rajeev says he has picked the best ones among the umpteen local options.
Apart from the firm-fleshed varikka, the farm also has a row of best quality ‘koozha’ trees while another attraction is Vietnam Super Early which starts bearing fruit after one year.
“The fruits of all 12 varieties are different when it comes to water and fibre content, colour and bulb size. They also bear fruits in multiple seasons making the product available almost every month,” he says.
The farm also has a handful of beehive boxes while concrete poles have been erected at some parts to cultivate pepper.
“Though there is enough space in between the trees, I didn’t go for intercropping as I wanted to avoid anything that can disturb the growth of jackfruit saplings. I use only organic manure for the main crop and I don’t intend to cultivate anything that requires extra attention or chemical fertlizers,” says Mr. Rajeev.
Mr.Rajeev adds that he has no plans to make value added products anytime soon as the demand for the crop has been growing. “We are also exploring the possibility of farm tourism since we are getting many visitors these days,” he says.