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Fruits of labour

| Updated on June 21, 2019 Published on June 21, 2019

The homely jackfruit has empowered women in a remote corner of Meghalaya

In March 2019, an article in The Guardian created controversy when it called the jackfruit “a spectacularly ugly, smelly, unfarmed, unharvested pest-plant native to India”. The writer further described the tropical fruit as a star of the vegan food trend. This led to a slew of articles in Indian media, apart from a storm of protests on various social media platforms. Quite obviously, Indians were leading the charge of the jackfruit brigade — a sizeable chunk of the dissenting voices emanated from Kerala. Incidentally, on June 5 (observed as World Environment Day), the civic body in Kodungallur, a town in Thrissur district, made it mandatory for all new buildings to plant native fruit trees (mango, coconut and jackfruit) as a pre-condition to procure an occupancy certificate.

Meghalaya, however, doesn’t need such rules to drive home the importance of the jackfruit in its economy. In 2018, the state government formulated a policy that seeks to create livelihood opportunities for rural and urban people by exploring the potential of the fruit. A small but decisive step in this direction is the setting up of a food processing unit in Jareibasai, a village in Ri Bhoi district, by the IAI Pyrshang Self Help Group.

Salomi, the head of the unit run by eight local women, tells BLink that the fruit is sourced from the plentiful trees in the region. As of now, the group is focussed on making jackfruit chips, pickles and papad, which is sold in nearby markets. These products will soon be transported to the stores and markets in Shillong, the capital of Meghalaya.

The workers are taking home up to ₹8,000 a month — an amount that contributes significantly to the household income. The money is also helping some of the women complete their studies.

Rajeev Tyagi is a Delhi-based photojournalist

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Published on June 21, 2019