Engaged in a 'Jackfruit Mission' among the youth in Sri Lanka - The New Indian Express

Engaged in a 'Jackfruit Mission' among the youth in Sri Lanka

Published: 08th August 2013 01:07 PM

Last Updated: 08th August 2013 01:07 PM

There’s an old saying in Sri Lanka - that Sri Lankans will never starve. What encourages the average islander to brag thus is a fruit both Lankans and Indians love; the ubiquitous jackfruit. But in a changing world, the popularity of ‘Kose’ - as the fruit is called in Sinhalese - is taking a beating in the small island nation. That’s where Mahinda Karunaratne comes in.

For the past one year, the 80-year-old has been on a mission promoting jackfruit among his nation’s younger generation. ‘’For ages, it has been a staple diet in Sri Lanka. In fact, in Sinhalese it is described as ‘Bath Gasa’ - rice tree. It is equal to rice in our diet,’’ says Karunaratne, who chairs the Karuna Trust and is in Kerala to take back tips on his ‘pet fruit.’ ‘’We have taken our projects to government-run schools in rural Sri Lanka like Anuradhapura and Ratnapura. Students are given two seedlings each and are encouraged to plant them in his or her home garden. They have to plant it, and look after it,’’ he said.

What prompted him to champion the cause of jackfruit is its dwindling popularity among the younger generation, especially in urban Sri Lanka. The situation is more or less similar to Kerala, where ‘chakka’, while sought after for its  divine sweetness, is never quite accorded the same status as, say, the mango or the banana.

Karunaratne says Lankans and Indians can learn from each other when it comes to jackfruit. Over the centuries, Lankans have perfected techniques for preserving the flesh of the fruit as well as its seed. ‘’We have a variety of dishes, you know, curries included. Tender jackfruit is also used as a substitute for rice, and you have it with fish curry, for example. Right through the year, we have jackfruit on our menu,’’ he said, adding that his aim was create a jackfruit promotion council on the lines of the one in Kerala.

Karunaratne is an interesting character in himself. Half-a-century ago, he started off as a printer, founding the Karunaratne and Sons (Pvt) Ltd. When he turned 70, the slightly built, soft-spoken businessman handed over the firm to his children, on a condition; one per cent of the profits should go to Karuna Trust, which focuses on children’s education.

His passion for the jackfruit has found him friends across the Palk Straits. Says journalist and rainwater harvesting expert Sri Padre: ‘’We have a lot to learn from Sri Lanka when it comes to jackfruit. They export jackfruit products to 15 countries. Even the jackfruit seeds are brined and exported. It is high time we exchanged teams of jackfruit lovers.’’

Karunaratne will attend a workshop on jackfruit organised by the Jackfruit Promotion Council in Thiruvananthapuram on Thursday.

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