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Sunday, December 05, 2021

Jackfruit man

K R Jayan is leading a movement aimed at food security and environmental conservation. And at the centre of this revolution is the humble jackfruit

Written by Nandini Thilak | New Delhi |
December 2, 2011 3:17:49 am

The humble jackfruit is the key to achieving local food security and stemming environmental degradation in India,especially the southern states,says K R Jayan,a 46-year-old conservationist,who has been leading a movement in Kerala to revive what is one of the most vital components of the rural economy in the state.

Ignored as an unmarketable,clumsy fruit in an age dominated by cash crops and modern farming practices,the jackfruit has now become the centre of a revolution of sorts against environmental degradation,dominance of cash crops and big farming in agrarian economies of Kerala and Karnataka,thanks to the activities of Jayan and others like him.

Known in his home state as ‘Plavu Jayan’ (which means ‘jackfruit tree Jayan’ in Malayalam),he has been on a mission since his childhood to plant and nurture these trees across villages in his native Thrissur district,a mission which has now spread all over the state and outside.

“If it wasn’t for jackfruit many villages in Kerala would’ve starved in the days before Gulf remittances started flowing into the state,bringing along with it an era of wanton destruction of the state’s ecology for monetary gain,” Jayan says.

Jayan has an emotional bond with the jack tree,which kept him and his eight siblings from starvation as the family struggled to make ends meet with the meagre income of his father,a newspaper distributor. After discontinuing his education,Jayan spent many years wandering till 1995,when he,too,followed the path of thousands of other unemployed youth from the state and flew to the Gulf for a job. He returned home in 2006 to follow his life-long dream of planting jack trees across his home state. The movement started with Jayan touring Thrissur on a three-wheeler,selling products of women’s self help groups in remote villages while stopping wherever possible to plant and care for jackfruit trees.

Since then his efforts have gained recognition and Jayan has managed,along with other activists like Shree Padre from Kasargod district,to kickstart a grassroots movement,made visible in recent times through many jackfruit festivals and workshops in Kerala and elsewhere,to create awareness about the importance of the tree.

Jayan,who freely distributes jackfruit saplings to anyone who comes knocking at his home in Avittathoor,is a staunch opponent of propagation techniques like grafting,popularised by government and private agencies as the easiest way to produce saplings. “The jack trees that germinate very easily in the natural way will live for 200 years. I’ve never seen the ones produced by grafting and other techniques survive beyond eight years though they fruit early,unlike a naturally grown tree which fruits after seven years,” he claims.

A recipient of many awards for his tree-planting efforts,Jayan has also authored Plavu,a compilation of all the knowledge he has accumulated about the tree.

In Kerala and Karnataka,nearly 35 jackfruit festivals,along with other initiatives to create awareness on the utilisation of the fruit,have been held during the past five years,said Shree Padre. “We have found that almost 600 value added products can be made out of jackfruit. One fair-sized jackfruit,after sensible value addition,can fetch Rs 500 to 600,making it an important contributor to rural income generation — both for small farmers and self help groups,” he said. “Almost 75 per cent of India’s jackfruit produce is wasted while countries like Sri Lanka have managed to encourage its processing and improve local food security,” Shree Padre added.

Jayan received the Civil Society Hall of Fame award here on November 30.

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