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Friday, Apr 11, 2003

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Pickled bananas turn hot business

L.N. Revathy


BANANA growers, who were anxious to dispose of immature bunches or those falling off early due to wind, need worry no longer. There could be a huge demand for these in the days to come.

Thanks to the training imparted by the National Research Centre on Banana (NRCB), Mr Dharmaraj, a farmer at Koppu village near Tiruchi, has exploited the technique of preparing `pickle' from such bunch, which would otherwise have been condemned as waste.

May be it is yet another instance of generating wealth from waste (though not exactly).

Though there is a market for such immature bunch, growers do not get a good price, although they are desperate to effect a sale and realise cash instead of allowing the produce to rot.

When contacted, Mr Dharmaraj told Business Line that there was a phenomenal demand for the banana pickle. ``I started distributing it in sachet. In the early days, I made about 1,000 packets a month. Today, I have orders for over 2 lakh sachet every month and the volumes are growing rapidly,'' he said.

To meet the orders, Mr Dharmaraj has approached the banks for financial support. It is learnt that Nabard, which has identified 20 products for assistance under a new scheme, included this too within that ambit.

To a query on marketing, Mr Dharmaraj said it was a typical village level distribution system, where the packets used to be picked by retail shop owners from his doorstep.

``While I made a profit of 10 paise per sachet, the distributors sold them at Re 0.50 per packet and gained Re 0.15/packet.'' He has branded the product as `Great Pickle'.

The NRCB Director, Dr Sathyamoorthy, said there was a growing enthusiasm for making value-added banana products.

The research institute conducts training programmes regularly to create awareness on the value-additions to this fruit. NRCB has evolved as many as 32 (formulae) value-added products, ranging from the common chips, slice, banana cereal to wine besides handicraft items using the plant fibre.

Besides the pickle, which is prepared from the `Mondan Kai' (raw, thick peel, immature banana), the growers are keen to use the flower to make `Banana thokku'.

``The initial investment is not high for such products. Even small farmers can make and market these at the village level. Nabard's support would be a boon in strengthening the business,'' Dr Sathyamorrthy added.

While farmers were keen to take to newer products, they, according to the NRCB Director, dread to think about the market response to these products. Packaging, he said, had become the competitive tool.

``This area will have to be addressed,'' he said.

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