By Dr Nandkumar M Kamat
Three colourful varieties of cultivated Zamb (Syzigium jambos - pale green, coral red and pinkish), five different varieties of Jamun / Jambul (Syzigium cumuni), two rare annona (custard apple family)
species - Annona reticulosa (bullock’s heart) and Annona muricata (palpanas), three related species of cultivated jackfruit (Artocarpus heterophyllus), acidic bilimbi (Averrhoa bilimbi), carambolam or starfruit (Averrhoa carambola), raj aawla (Phyllanthus acidus), Adam’s apple or adanva (Mimusops / Manilkara kauki), zagama and chafera belonging to Flocurtia species - this is not a complete list of neglected fruits of Goa.
For past 50 years the agriculture department has done virtually nothing to promote these species. Clubbed under “minor fruit crops” there is only a limited academic interest in these fruits - many of which can be found only in Goa and the Konkan. The Goa state horticulture corporation which is promoting cultivation of hybrid crops has also turned its’ back on these fruits and it is the same story regarding the Goa forest development corporation and the plantation wing of the Forest department. So who would then encourage the cultivation of these fruit species?
These fruits attract premium price in the market. Zamb - Syzigium jambos is a nice, tasty, soft, fleshy fruit. The pale green variety is seen in markets more frequently than the attractive small coral red and the very delicious and sponge like pinkish one. The last two varieties have become very rare now. A few families in Bardez and Salcete may have these trees. The pale green Zamb fruits are sold for ` 20 a dozen. These are semi evergreen trees and provide nice shade in the garden. Very few people engage in commercial plantation of Jamun or Jambul. Most of the stock which comes to market is from collection from wild jambul trees. There are at least five varieties - the small pink, the small black, the medium pinkish black, the large purplish black and the large black.
A large number of old jambul trees from Tiswadi, Bardez and Ponda have been cut. So now most of the supply of Jambul comes from the Sawantwadi area. The prices have escalated to ` 80 per hundred.
The Portuguese are credited with the introduction of the Annona species in India. But the government did not promote cultivation of bullock’s heart and palpanas species. It is very rare to see these fruits in local markets despite their taste and value. Those who bring a few bullock’s heart fruits to the market demand premium price of ` 60-80 per fruit.
Palpanas reminds one of Durian. It grows very well in the soils of Bardez but there is negligible production. Goa is endowed with a rich diversity of Artocarpus fruits. Panas or the jackfruit is a major fruit of Goa. There is surplus production but no market. The crisp kapo variety and the juicy, rasal variety - are both popular. At least 50 products can be made from local jackfruits. Nothing goes to waste. Even the seeds can be roasted and consumed.
Compared to the jackfruit the story of the breadfruit - Artocarpus altilis, is different. There is more demand and less supply. Breadfruit trees are well adapted to the soils of Goa. A breadfruit promotion mission is required. A single large breadfruit is sold for ` 60 which shows how wealth can be generated from breadfruit plantations. Stress has to be given on the diseases of breadfruit trees which cause fruit drop. For landscaping also breadfruits are an excellent species. Being evergreen with wide a canopy, breadfruit trees can add to the quality of the local environment.
Another rare but neglected variety is Artocarpus integer - it looks like a jackfruit but is not the same species. However the agriculture department has no information on distribution of Artocarpus heterophyllus and Artocarpus integer species. It may wake up only after a multinational seed company makes them an offer to source germplasm of these species.
Nothing has been done to promote otamb fruits produced by another Artocaprus species - Artocaprus lakoocha. The rind is a good source of organic acids. Although bilimbi and carambolam trees are common in Goa’s rural areas, there is not much emphasis on improving the cultivar and promoting their value added products like – sliced, salted and dried bilimbi, bilimbi pickles, production of oxalic acid from bilimbi, etc. Ripe bilimbis can be used for wine production. Carambolam make excellent pickles and jams. Both these fruits are not recommended for people with kidney problems as the oxalate content is high. Carambolam wine is popular in South East Asia.
A form of gooseberry - raj aawala - Phyllanthus acidus is an excellent source of Vitamin C. But people plant this species more for ornamental purposes and waste the abundant fruits. The fruits make tasty sweet and sour pickles and jams.
Zagama and Chaferam are now rarely seen in the markets. These fruits of the Flocurtia species have good nutritional value. At least Goa’s major educational institutions could have raised gardens of these fruits.
The Portuguese planted Adanva trees near the churches and chapels. Then these beautiful evergreen trees spread to the interiors of villages. But during the harvesting period (December-March) very small crops are now seen in the markets.
Six years ago I had paid ` 300 for 100 fruits. There needs to be a systematic attempt to use these luxuriant trees for landscaping of church and temple premises. So far no thought has been given to use these species for roadside arboriculture.
Goans patronised these fruits for several centuries because they love to experiment with novel plant species. It is the duty of the village panchayats to catalogue the wealth of the fruit trees in their jurisdiction and provide incentives to cultivators. Most of these fruit species are garden crops and don’t require very large tracts of land for cultivation.
If villages in Tiswadi, Bardez, Ponda, Salcete and Marmagoa keep a target of planting just 10-20 trees of each of the above species every year then these areas would turn into tropical fruit gardens. National horticulture mission needs to be converted into State fruits promotion mission.
Coloured fruits, fruits with phenolics and anti-oxidants, fruits with beneficial pigments have been highly recommended as probiotics to keep away various forms of diseases and cancers. Goans are compelled to eat temperate fruits imported from China, Australia, New Zealand, Chile only because there is inadequate supply of traditional seasonal fruits.
The neglected fruits of Goa need focus of the civil society before their diversity is completely lost. Poor crops of Cashew and Mangoes indicate that local fruits have no real local champions. For the next generation, the photographs of Zams, bhedsa, palpanas, zagama, adanvas, chaferas may be the sole consolation.