RAYAGADA: Even as custard apples grow aplenty in Rayagada district, the tribals, who collect and sell them, fail to reap profit from the fruit that is also called Sitaphal or Aata. Every day, thousands of tribals can be seen carrying loads of custard apples to the markets from their villages.
Custard Apple plants came up unattended in various parts of the district and no organised plantation has been undertaken by the Horticulture wing of Agriculture Department so far. Custard apple belongs to the genus Annona of the Annonaceae family. There are five fruits in this family that are edible and hence significant. Those are Custard Apple, Bullock’s Heart (also known as Ramphal and Nonaphal), Sour Sop (also known as Ramphal), Cherimoyer (Hanumanphal) and Ilama.
In fact, the Rayagada variety of custard apple also makes its way into markets of Bhubanesar, Cuttack, Jagatsinghpur and Sambalpur. The hardy fruit, also sent to other neighbouring States through rail, grows in abundance in tribal-dominated blocks of Rayagada, Kalyansinghpur and Kolnara.
Although the custard apple is not known to have grown in any particular type of soil, it thrives well in rocky terrain with well-drained soil and do not require much care. Custard apple plants start bearing fruits at the age of four to five years. They produce single crop in a year between September and November.
Earlier, the fruit was sold at a cheap rate in the district but currently, tribals sell one fruit for Rs 4 to Rs 5 in the open market. Wholesalers, though, procure the fruit from them at Rs 3 to Rs 5 per piece and sell them at much higher rates in other districts and States. In the markets of Cuttack and Bhubaneswar, the fruit sells at Rs 65 per kg. In Rayagada town, tribals gather at Old Gate Road to sell the fruit which does not need application of fertilisers to grow well. The yield begins in the fourth year and lasts at least for 15 years. Each plant bears 50 to 60 fruits.
Tribal farmer leader Applaswamy Kadraka said, the administration should set up fruit outlets during the harvest period for tribals to sell custard apples. “Rayagada is well-endowed in fruit farming due to the climatic conditions, especially for custard apples and mangoes, and farmers ought to take advantage of that. This fruit can grow in what is technically known as degraded land. It’s a hardy plant and does not require much water. The fruit can improve the economic lot of farmers. In fact, they can grow this plant as fillers between mango orchards,” he said.