Bhavin Ravaliya is unlike the scores of farmers I’ve met and interacted with during my assignments over the years. Young, he is 27, willing to experiment with new crops, share his experiences and even promote a new fruit—offering saplings at highly subsidised rates to farmers.
“I’m a farmer and they are my fellows,” he reasons.
If in future, Bhanvad and its neighbouring villages in Jamnagar district grow to become the hub of passion fruit growers in Gujarat the credit, most likely, will go to Bhavin. Till now passion fruit has been grown in Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Karnataka.
In 2018, he planted the PKM 1, the Moringa variety on nine bighas and made around Rs 30 lakhs from the harvest. “We had a good harvest of Saragwa but next year due to the lockdown we couldn’t sell much,” he says.
Always willing to experiment he has planted 2,000 lemon plants on 15 bighas and 100 plants of Barhi dates on five bighas.
For selling the newly introduced saplings of passion fruity he has adopted the ‘mall strategy’—buy one get one. Buy 50 saplings and you get an additional 50. For the kitchen gardeners, however, the three-month come for Rs 100 apiece.
“If they succeed to grow it I am willing to collect their harvest to sell it to traders in Delhi and Mumbai or make value-added products,” he says.
Bhavin sourced seeds of the passion fruits from Tamil Nadu in 2020 to begin his orchard, a first in Gujarat. “I and a friend sourced some seeds from Brazil too,” he informs.
Native to Brazil, Passion Fruit (Passiflora edulis Sims) belonging to the family Passifloraceae, is grown mostly in tropical and subtropical parts of the world from South America to Australia, Asia and Africa. In India, passion fruit was introduced in the early part of the twentieth century in the Nilgiris, Coorg and Malabar areas of southern India. A perennial fruit, its a vigorous, climbing, woody vine that produces round or ovoid fruits. The fruits have a tough, smooth, waxy dark purple/yellow coloured rind with faint, fine white specks. Fruit contains orange-coloured pulpy juice with a large number of small, hard, dark brown to black pitted seeds. The fruits possess a unique flavour and aroma and high nutritional and medicinal properties. Mainly they are processed to make fruit juice and concentrate, it has lately become a favourite at weddings and social gatherings in Kerala and Tamil Nadu.
The purple passion fruit (P. edulis) is adapted to the cooler subtropics or at high altitudes in the tropics, while the golden passion fruit (P. edulis var. flavicarpa) is more suited to tropical lowland conditions. The two forms of passion fruit hybridize readily and produce fertile seedlings intermediate in appearance between the parents. The yellow is more acidic and less starchy while the purple less acidic and more starchy. Each plant bears 40-60 fruits per annum and produces 200 tonnes yield/ha over a three-year cropping period. Fruits ovoid to round and purple dotted. Fruits contain 25-30 per cent juice, 11.5-12.0 per cent sugars and 3.0-3.5mg citric acid/100ml.
In Kerala, physicians recommend it and during the dengue season, its sale spirals on. Shops and fruit vendors around big hospitals start selling passion fruit. Fruit vendors, realising this, begin to stock it. The leaf decoction of passion fruit is believed to bring down blood sugar. The fruit has antioxidants and richer reserves of polyphenols than other tropical fruits such as bananas, lychees and pineapples. Extract of purple passion fruit peel is believed to help reduce wheezing and coughing associated with asthma, according to one scientific study.
“I have extracted the seeds by fermentation method by heaping up the pulp for 48 hours in the fridge, extracting the seeds and then drying them in shade,” informs Bhavin.
Sowing is done preferably during the month of March-April in a well-prepared seedbed. The seeds start sprouting in about 12-15 days after sowing and germination is completed in about a month. In some cases germination extends even up to 50-60 days. When the seedlings attain four to six leaves and are transplanted in the field in about three months.
How does Bhavin grow passion fruit?
“I have created mandap (canopy) of 10 ft by 10 ft with four iron girders on the corners and its roof woven with nylon ropes,” says Bhavin. “One has to train the vine to climb the mandap which it does with great vigour.
The Ravaliyas have erected 214 mandaps for passion fruit cultivation. Each mandap gives them between 12kg to 15 kg of fruit. “Whereas Tamil Nadu growers receive 10kg per mandap our is much higher,” says Bhavin who discontinued his studies after completing his 12th standard.
Bhavin’s family, a joint family of 20 persons, owns 80 bighas, of which 65 bighas is devoted to passion fruits. According to him, the Revaliyas are the only joint family in Bhanvad who continue to live together, farm together and share the harvest too. For long they have been growing rain-fed crops but have now two borewells, having struck water at 800 ft and 1300 ft respectively.
Presently, Bhavin has 22,000 passion fruit saplings in his nursery ready for sale to nurseries in his neighbourhood and farmers willing to experiment with passion fruits. Thanks to his initiative of growing passion fruits, he has become a local celebrity and even been interviewed by the All India Radio, Rajkot.