AGRITRENDS: There’s money in growing jackfruit

“The world has always been like this: one man feasts on the jackfruit and the other gets stuck in the sap,” says a familiar saying.  Another one goes like this, “Whoever eats the jackfruit will be touched by the sap.”

Jackfruit (scientific name: Artocarpus heterophyllus) is called a variety of names around the world. In the Philippines, it is called “langka” or “nangka.”

Like most tropical fruits, Westerners considered jackfruit as somewhat weird and exotic.  It is enormous and prickly on the outside and it looks somewhat like the controversial durian (although it tastes like heaven, it smells like hell).

Once a jackfruit is cracked open, what you will find inside are pods or “bulbs.”  Often referred to as the seeds, these bulbs are actually the fleshy covering for the true seeds or pits, which are round and dark like chestnuts.  The fruit juices are extremely sticky, so people often oil their hands before preparing the fruit.

Actually, the “bulbs” are delicious raw or as ice cream, jelly, chutney, syrup and jam. An American journalist describes jackfruit in these words: “The ripe fruit smells like rotting onions from the outside, but the fruit flesh inside smells like banana or pineapple.”

In Eastern Visayas, jackfruit has become the banner crop of the region.  In fact, the Department of Agriculture (DA) in tandem with the Eastern Visayas Integrated Agricultural Research Center (EVIARC) have come up with three jackfruit accessions which have already passed the National Seed Industry Council.  Among the three varieties, EVIARC Sweet was singled out as the most superior.

“The EVIARC Sweet is recommended and the most preferred variety for fresh fruit and for processing because of its thick aril, high edible portion and high sugar content, which gives a better profit margin compared to other varieties,” said an information bulletin published by the Laguna-based Philippine Council for Agriculture, Aquatic and Natural Resources Research and Development (PCAARRD), a line agency of the Department of Science and Technology (DOST).

The research and development initiatives of DA and EVIARC in jackfruit processing have already developed several processed products like tart, pastillas, puree and jam, to name a few.  These processing technologies are ready for transfer to interested entrepreneurs.

Considering the demand for its fresh fruits and processed products, the DA has promoted the EVIARC Sweet for massive planting in the region.

“Through the plant now pay later scheme (PNPL), farmers acquired jackfruit planting materials from the regional field office of the agriculture department that is payable within 5 years,” said the bulletin entitled Jackfruit: A Sweet Success in Eastern Visayas, which was written by Jonalyn G. Saulan.

Leading the pack of farmers is Job D. Abuyabor, whose jackfruit farm is located in barangay San Isidro in Mahaplag, Leyte.  His successful adoption of the package of applicable technology (PAT) through technology demonstrations led him to fully plant his 8-hectare land with jackfruit under coconut trees.

Abuyabor used to plant his farm with abaca.  But it was largely affected by the abaca bunchy top virus and so he decided to try out jackfruit farming.  He attended trainings on jackfruit management practices and then availed of the PNPL program.

In 2003, Abuyabor left the local government and concentrated on his jackfruit farm.  In 2007, he accepted the suggestion to allot part of his land as jackfruit techno farm in Mahaplag.  His one-hectare farm was initially planted to 156 jackfruit trees.

The jackfruit techno demo farm followed the PAT in jackfruit production while the other portion of the farm did not implement the recommended practices.

In 2011, he was recognized as magsasaka siyentista (MS) or farmer scientist on jackfruit in Region 8.  He incorporated the lessons learned from other MS into his farm practices, such as ring weeding once every 3 months, applying the recommended fertilizer, pruning his jackfruit trees, and implementing the tagging system, which facilitates harvesting of fruits, especially on a bigger production scale.

Tagging is an innovation adopted from the PCAARDD-funded research.  It is done by writing the date of fruit emergence on the bagging material.  According to Abuyabor, the fruit is sweetest when harvested 16 days before the ripe stage, and the said innovation became his basis in harvesting jackfruit.

Another intervention he adopted was pruning.  “To have a well-formed canopy, open-center method is followed by cutting the main trunk 1.5 meters from the ground leaving 3-4 big branches to develop a multiple stem jackfruit tree,” Saulan wrote.  “Pruning of trees was done at 2 years of age.”

Abuyabor also performed postharvest activities such as cleaning of fruit, sorting and grading, and tagging each fruit with its actual weight before storing in a screen-covered shelf ready for selling.

A lot of perseverance is how he summed his experience in venturing into jackfruit production with very limited knowledge.  He said the support from various agencies in implementing the recommended practices for jackfruit production has offered him a notable difference in management and farming practices, more importantly, profit.

Learning, he believes, truly makes a difference when applied on the field.  “Do not plant jackfruit if you are not willing to attend trainings, because it will be a waste of investment,” he advises those who want to go into jackfruit farming.

There’s more to jackfruit than just its fruits.  The pulp, when boiled in milk, yields delicious orange-toned custard, while frying dry, salted bulbs serves up an alternative to potato chips.  Jackfruit seeds (nuts) can be roasted like chestnuts, or boiled. If left to cook inside the flesh (for example, in curries or other cooked dishes), the nut softens and can easily be eaten.

Aside from the fruit, other parts of jackfruit also possess some medicinal properties.  The Chinese consider jackfruit pulp and seeds tonic, cooling and nutritious, and to be “useful in overcoming the influence of alcohol on the system.” The seed starch is given to relieve biliousness and the roasted seeds are regarded as aphrodisiac. The ash of jackfruit leaves, burned with corn and coconut shells, is used alone or mixed with coconut oil to heal ulcers.

There are also reports that the latex, when mixed with vinegar, promotes healing of abscesses, snakebite and glandular swellings. The root is a remedy for skin diseases and asthma. An extract of the root is taken in cases of fever and diarrhea. The bark is made into poultices. Heated leaves are placed on wounds. The wood has a sedative property; its pith is said to produce abortion.

Recent laboratory studies show that lectins found in jackfruit and its seeds may have antibacterial, antifungal, antiviral, and immunostimulative properties. However, clinical study is still lacking. The currently available research examines the role of jackfruit leaves in increasing glucose tolerance. More studies in humans are needed to define jackfruit’s potential role in diabetes.

In agriculture, jackfruit is also indispensable.  In some areas, the jackfruit is fed to cattle. The tree is even planted in pastures so that the animals can avail themselves of the fallen fruits. Surplus jackfruit rind is considered a good stock food.

Jackfruit is also good in controlling pests.  The golden apple snail is one of the major rice pests in Asia, including the Philippines.  If they are not controlled, they can devastate the rice crops causing huge losses to farmers.  In Malaysia, some farmers are using jackfruit instead of pesticides to control the snails.  They put rotten jackfruits in their rice fields.

Here are more other uses of jackfruit:

Latex: The heated latex is employed as household cement for mending chinaware and earthenware, and to caulk boats and holes in buckets. Although it could be used as a substitute for rubber, the latex contains 82.6 to 86.4% resins which may have value in varnishes.

Wood: Its wood changes with age from orange or yellow to brown or dark-red.  It is termite-proof, fairly resistant to fungal and bacterial decay, and resembles mahogany.  It is superior to teak for furniture, construction, turnery, masts, oars, implements, brush backs and musical instruments.  In Cebu, guitars made from the wood of jackfruit are very popular.  Though sharp tools are needed to achieve a smooth surface, it polishes beautifully.  Roots of old trees are greatly prized for carving and picture framing.

From the sawdust of its wood or chips of the heartwood, boiled with alum, there is derived a rich yellow dye commonly used for dyeing silk and the cotton robes of Buddhist priests. In Indonesia, splinters of the wood are put into the bamboo tubes collecting coconut toddy in order to impart a yellow tone to the sugar.

Bark: There is only 3.3% tannin in the bark which is occasionally made into cordage or cloth.