Tribal Fare

I found that an early morning visit to the local subzi mandi during the beginning days of the monsoon can be revelatory.  For I came across an unknown leafy vegetable which I had never chanced upon in my life today.

The women, an adivasi, with a meagre fare of vegetables in a basket at Thane’s subzi mandi told me: It’s fodshi, we pick it from the Yeeor hills. Very tasty. You can prepare it like methi.

Wifey asked: How much?

We ended a bunch of three for Rs 20.Fodshi

Having never heard of it, I sent an image to my botanist friend, Dr. Ajit Gokhale and was told that the tribals call it kuli. Its botanical name is chlorophytum tuberosum but is generally confused with chlorophytum borivlianum, commonly known as safed musli.

According to edible chlorophytum is a herb found throughout the warmer regions of the world. The plant is about 20 cm tall, seen in gregarious clumps. Leaves are strap-shaped, 6-12, all arising from the base, 15-30 cm long. The plant blooms in June-July with the first showers of monsoon. Flowers are white, 2.5 cm across, with 6 elliptic petals. The centre of the flower has 6 erect stamens with yellow anthers. Edible Chlorophytum is also a famine food, its bulbs and leaves are eaten. Bulbs and leaves dried and pounded into flour for bread.

Writing in Ashwani Kumar, Prof Emeritus, former Head of the Department of Botany, and Director, Life Sciences, University of Rajasthan elaborates: “This is a genus of two hundred species and twelve are native to India. Organic-rich well drained sandy loamy soil and warm humid climate is suitable for its cultivation. Plants are propagated by seeds and by the division of rhizomes. Seeds remain dormant for nearly ten months. Germination of seeds takes two weeks and only about 20% of them germinate. Flowers are star-like white up to 2 cm across, sepals are acute, anthers are longer than filaments are green or yellow in colour, bracts are long. Seeds are black in colour with angular edges. The dry roots possess less than 5% moisture. It contains carbohydrates, proteins, root fibres, saponins and minerals. Dry roots of the plant constitute the drug and are used in powdered form. It is a well-known tonic and aphrodisiac and also used to treat general debility. Leaves of this plant are also eaten as a vegetable. The tubers of about 20 g are boiled with milk and taken twice a day for a month for  impotency and general weakness.”



Sometimes you have to wait for a plant to flower for years. So much so that you even tend to forget that it exists in your garden. I had planted the Ananta some five years, maybe six. Now, I don’t even remember rightly, when. Having heard and read about it I had visited scores of nurseries until I found it in my neighbourhood. The nursery owner handing me the plant had said: “The flowers are milky white and very fragrant. It’s as large as a rose.”


For over 10 days I was unable to visit my orchard, first due to new assignments which came my way and second due to the excessive rains. The downpour was so heavy that roads were flooded: the car unable to move ahead. Crestfallen I had returned home to wait for another three days so that the rain god could be more reasonable.

But seeing the milk-white flowers on a tree this weekend as Mangal picked them up I rushed towards it only to be enveloped by its fragrance. The Ananta flowers, I am told is a favourite of Lord Ganesha, have a distinct heavenly fragrance which can be sensed even from far as the breeze caresses it and spreads its heady scent.

Belonging to the Gardenia family, the Ananta is known as Gardenia jasminoides. The flower is named after Dr. Alexander Garden (1730-1791), a Scottish-born American naturalist.

Also known as Ghanda raj (king of fragrance) it was a common fragrant plant a few years back but now has become a rarity and is difficult find one. Incidentally, it was Sigmund Freud’s favourite flower.

Manna For Diabetics

I had interviewed James Joseph when he published his book, God’s Own Office, sometime in 2014. We kept in touch as we had similar interests.  His jackfruit initiative,, has been a path breaking feat focusing on the much-ignored fruit. Here he shares his journey which has resulted in invention of green jackfruit flour, a great boon for diabetics. Read on.

“James, you can’t expect rest of India to eat Kerala’s traditional jackfruit meal. Diabetes is a big problem for whole of India, and you must find a way to add green jackfruit to what people normally eat to make it diabetic friendly.” – Late Dr. APJ Kalam

Once I completed my research with Sydney University to scientifically explain the discovery with Fr. Thomas, my thoughts went back to Dr. Kalam’s ask mentioned above, when he invited me for a meeting at his house, in November 2014. By this time many diabetic patients, had started powdering the freeze dried jackfruit, and mix it with their idli and roti. The powder from freeze dried jackfruit had good binding and worked well with rice and wheat flour and patients could easily add one third portion, without any change in taste or texture. However, time and again, our customers raised their concerns about the product as somewhat expensive for daily consumption, even though the cost was still less than the savings they had on medicines. Any other form of drying wouldn´t have given us the same result with respect to binding and having positive impact on sugar levels.

The HERO ingredient!

Our tests, narrowed the reasons down, to one key nutrient which is retained intact through the expensive freeze drying process, and that was the soluble fibre! The concentration of soluble fibre reaches its peak in mature green jackfruit and gets converted to sugar as it ripens. The soluble fibre serves two great functions. It gives excellent binding for the flour, just like gluten in wheat flour and once inside your body it binds not only just sugar, it also binds cholesterol from getting absorbed into the body. This very ingredient turns into harmful sugar in two days as the green fruit ripens. This explains the ancient Sanskrit text one Ayurveda doctor shared with me during the discovery phase. “Panasam madhya pakvam Lavanadhiyuktham” which means, jackfruit is most nutrient rich when it is in mid-ripe stage. Our ancient scholars knew about this hero ingredient -soluble fibre, which is much less in the tender or ripe stages of a green jackfruit.

The Inventions!

After several months of experiments, which took every ounce of engineering still left in me, we got two major breakthrough inventions! First we could develop a green jackfruit flour, which had much more soluble fibre than the powder, made from freeze dried slices. In fact it had more soluble fibre, than the much hyped Oats. It also had less available carbohydrate and sugar. So we had a better product at the nutritional level for our diabetic customers that also had better binding and taste!

Second breakthrough, was developing a continuous process machine, to peel and process jackfruit to flour in the shortest possible time while maintaining global hygiene standards. The labour intensive manual process of peeling and slicing jackfruit had two major problems. Very low productivity due to the size and sticky nature of the fruit and the challenge of finishing the job before the fruit turned ripe. I knew automation was the only way to ensure quality, quantity and to keep the flour economical for the larger diabetic population in India. My search for a machine took me to three Chinese manufacturers and five European manufacturers. The Chinese had a peeling solution for tender jackfruits which are much smaller; but they couldn’t handle bigger fruits. One European manufacturer from Italy agreed to try but came back with the response “it’s impossible!! It’s too big…it’s too sticky… and the stones (seeds) are all over the fruit, not in the middle like in all other fruits!!!” Finally I had no choice than to try and build one ourselves. After making several cross country trips carrying heavy jackfruits in a bag on trains, we finally cracked a continuous process machine which could process truckloads of jackfruits in a day! 25 years after leaving engineering college thanks to the humble jackfruit I now have two pending patents and the all-purpose green jackfruit flour which can make almost all Indian meals with Rice flour or Wheat flour diabetic friendly, is very much affordable for the wider population!

The solution Dr. Kalam had asked me to figure out is finally a reality.  Jackfruit365™ Green Jackfruit Flour is being offered in partnership with Eastern Group. The easiest way to reduce your grains by half and double your greens in your plate, without changing what you eat in quantity or taste, for just 5 rupees per plate!


Symphony of the Soil

Having been a weekend farmer for over a decade now let me share a secret with you: I know how soil is made.The process begins sometimes in early October when the soil is not moister as the rains are now a memory. The twigs, fallen branches, dead leaves, fruit waste and all have become the food of the termites.Soil in the making

Utter the word ‘termites’ and you’re likely to hear orchard growers curse them. More so those who have a farm in the Konkan belt of Maharashtra where it is considered a menace one need to live with. Every means available are used to them exterminate them but fail miserably. Yes, for a brief period the termites seem to be effaced. But they return: for they share a relationship which is as old as this planet.

Unwilling to be defeated, the farm owner repeats the cycle and it goes on and ends.  But the soil unlike our kidneys which flushes out what the body doesn’t need loses its fertility, eliminated of its most friendly dweller.


What do the termites do to the litter?

It envelopes the litter with soil and within months it disintegrates to become a fine powder, like sawdust.

In the initial years, I too felt that there is something wrong with my soil but I played the game of caution: watching the organic matter turn to soil, as days’ progress to become months and as seasons come and go.  I have been restraining myself from any kind of intervention which will disturb the ecological cycle. Keeping my ear and eyes to the ground. Listening to the symphony of the soil.  We, humans, consider ourselves as a superior species and are unwilling to let Nature be what it has been, for eons. And that has been our failing.

Once the rains come, the termites go into hibernation for moisture is its arch enemy.  But I do take precaution so that termites do not attack my fruit-bearing trees by applying a paste of lime and copper sulfate, beginning with the base of the tree trunk and reaching a height of a metre or so. Also in order to fool the termites, I make it a point is all over the place so that they don’t attack my tree.

Soils deepen with the accumulation of organic matter primarily due to the activities of higher plants. Topsoil deepens through soil mixing. Soils develop layers as organic matter accumulates and leaching takes place. This development of layers is the beginning of the soil profile.  What soil scientists address as “A horizon”.  This humus-rich topsoil where nutrient, organic matter, nd biological activity are highest (i.e. most plant roots, earthworms, insects, and micro-organisms are active). The A horizon is usually darker than other horizons because of the organic materials.

But mine isn’t darker and I’m not complaining.

Season of Golden Droplets

Amaltas (Common laburnum or Indian Laburnum), I think, may be the only tree of its kind which flowers and seeds simultaneously. It begins flowering in early March (in Thane): the bright yellow flowers hanging like droplets. That may be the reason it’s also known as Golden shower plant. The cylindrical seed pods, in the beginning, are dark green and slowly with days turn dark brown or black. Sanskrit has four names for it: Aragbadha, Suvarnaka (golden), Rajataru, Nripadruma (royal tree) and kritamla on account of the beauty of the long racemes of yellow flowers. The seedpods have hundreds of seeds; enough to grow a modest forest. Break open the seedpods with a stone and you’re likely to see the seeds neatly stacked—like in a CD rack. The pods contain approximately 30 -100 large hard flat, water-drop-shaped seeds and are light brown in colour.

firtsI came across this translated poem by Maaz Bin Balal which eulogizes the beauty of amalatas, published in Himal.

As crusts over hearts may bake in this season of amaltas,

Our parched souls, if florid, ache in this season of amaltas.

In that blinding yellow haze, what, did we not rake in those

inflamed passions, the sun’s make, in this season of amaltas?

Delhi’s very own harvest, for the tired lover, what rest?

Crackdowns, protests; what’ll he take in this season of amaltas?

You’re out to pick roses at the time of laburnums, Maaz,

They will know you’re a fake, in this season of amaltas.

And then come the rains:

When unbearable yellow blooms are drenched by the monsoon,

The thirst of Qais’s solitude is quenched by the monsoon.

Did the rain then dissipate what desire did create?

Did water douse raging fires, belched by the monsoon?

It’s thunder, lightning; will the revolution be frightening?

Or will all beauty, romance now be wrenched by the monsoon?

Do think of it again, Maaz, could this be your final stance?

The thick yellow fleece may yet be flinched by the monsoon.

IMG_20170424_142845At times I feel how fortunate we are to have such a beautiful tree around, giving us visual pleasure during the summer months: for its native to South East Asia and also found in Australia, Egypt, Ghana, Mexico, and Zimbabwe.

This is the right time to harvest the seeds of amaltas if you are among those who become rapturous watching the Golden Shower in full bloom. Plant it because it attracts hosts of bees and butterflies.

IMG_20170424_143130Having gathered the seeds from pods clean it thoroughly to remove the pulp. Once cleaned, the seeds must be gently scarified and soaked for 24 hours, prior to sowing.



My article in

Sustainable Agriculture

Organic farming for better yields takes wing in Gujarat

Inspired by examples of farmers earning ample returns through various techniques of chemicals-free farming, a farmers’ produce company in Rajkot is writing a new chapter on sustainable agriculture in arid and semi-arid zones

Moringa1.jpgA moringa crop is ready for harvest at a farm near Rajkot town. (Photo by Hiren Kumar Bose)

“Farmers who are forced to sell tomatoes for Rs 1 for a kilo or onions for 50 paise and end up destitute have become the norm,” says Neetu Patel, an agri-entrepreneur. “That’s not the kind of farming we believe in. We are into growing medicinal plants and even crops like wheat, castor, sesame, moong, arhar, etc., by strictly following organic farming.”

The feisty director of Future Farms, which counts Patanjali Ayurved, Himalaya Drug Company, and Zandu Pharmaceuticals as clients, was speaking at her organic food store in a residential neighborhood in Rajkot. The shop stores a range of products from alfalfa capsules to organically grown lentils. In 2016, it supplied 750 tons of castors grown in Kutch’s Bhachau region to Gandhidham-based Castor Products Company for pressing into oil, which was exported to Wala Heilmittel GMBH in Germany. With 100 acres adding up every other month, the farmers’ produce company is writing a new chapter on sustainable farming in the country’s arid and semi-arid zones.

A recent study, titled Development of Optimal Crop Plans (OCPs) for sustainable groundwater management practices in Saurashtra region, and conducted by agricultural scientists of Junagadh Agricultural University (JAU) in two villages each of Jamkandorna taluka of Rajkot and Wankaner taluka of Morbi, both in Gujarat, revealed that farmers cultivate water-intensive groundnut and cotton because of high gross returns compared with other crops that consumed less water. The study suggested that in order to improve crop diversification and lessen farmers’ dependency on high water intensity crops, suitable crops be suggested after duly considering its income generating capacity.

Encouraging uptake

The good news is that scores of farmers have already taken the initiative as suggested by the researchers and Neeta Patel’s Future Farms is one of them, which holds 8,000-odd acres in Gujarat’s Saurashtra and Kutch region, and benefits around 3,500 small and marginal farmers.

While most land holdings in Saurashtra’s Surendra Nagar, Bhavnagar, Junagadh, Rajkot, Morbi, Wankaner, and Jamnagar districts are within the range of 3 and 5 acres, the landholdings are bigger in Kutch due to its sandy soil and less rainfall. A sort of disruptive farming is being witnessed as scores of kheduts (farmers) abandon chemical-based farming and adopt organic farming. They use drip irrigation techniques, moving away from farming which relies heavily on over exploitation of ground water and increased dependence on chemical fertilizers and pesticides. These farmers feed the nascent market for organically grown crops, like wheat and lentils, besides fuelling the demand for herbal and medicinal crops, which go into making wellness products.


Regained fertility

Future Farms has been reaching out to small and marginal farmers, organizing workshops commending the virtues of cow’s bio-waste based organic farming and giving them demonstrations on making compost, organic fertilizers and pesticides. “Each month we get two to three requests from farmers for organizing workshops,” K. E. Chandravaidya, Associate Professor at Mangrol-based BRC College who has held workshops on behalf of the farm produce company in villages of Rajkot, Junagadh and Mangrol, told “Those who have followed our advice have found that the land which had lost its fertility has regained it and lessened their dependence on chemical inputs.”

In fact, ever since Subhash Palekar, the originator of Zero Budget Natural Farming (ZBNF), was awarded the Padma Shri, his daylong workshops held in villages of Saurashtra have been attracting huge participation. “Though we have been popularizing organic farming through our extension program within our university campus and through Kisan Vikas Kendras, spread in the 10 districts of Saurashtra, it has been Palekar’s workshops which have helped change the mindset of farmers,” Amrutlal M. Parakhia, director, Extension Education, Junagadh Agricultural University, told

Better produce

Like elsewhere, farmers here too are slowly realizing that soils rich in organic matter produce more nutritious food with higher levels of antioxidants, flavonoids, vitamins and minerals. An increase in soil organic matter, and therefore total carbon, leads to greater biological diversity in the soil, thus controlling the spread of plant diseases and pests.

Home to black or sandy soils, with a lower percentage of the humus content, the soil of Saurashtra has low availability of nitrogen, medium level of potassium and high level of phosphorous. From the point of fertility, the land is poorly supplied with plant nutrients. To get a reasonable yield each year, the farmer is forced to increase his dependence on chemical fertilizers and pesticides. With subsidy on fertilizers, except urea, being withdrawn, farmers have realized the futility of chemical-based farming.

From initiating the process of enriching the soil and completing the procedure involving the organic certification to post-harvest sale, Future Farms handholds the farmer for three years. It offers a fixed price to its associates (the farmers) decided at the beginning of the season. “We begin harvesting the tender leaves once the moringa plant is four months old, repeating the cycle every 45 days, not allowing them to flower or bear fruits. The leaves are dried on our solar drier channel for two days and ready for sale,” says Neetu at a 160-acre farm in Vinaygadh village in Than taluka of Morbi, 55 km from Rajkot town. The farm has rows upon rows of aloe vera, rose plants and shoulder-high moringa, all irrigated by drip, which alternately provides water and a fermented concoction of cow urine, dung, jaggery and powdered lentils.

Soon Future Farms plans to host free residential workshops at its Vinaygadh farm for farmers willing to take up natural and ecosystem-based (Natueco) farming method. “We make around Rs 1 lakh per acre from sargawah (moringa) and aloe vera,” associate Narbheram Vermoda told “Our wheat fetches around Rs 800 per quintal, which is Rs 200 more than those grown with chemical fertilizer inputs.”

Ecosystem networking

Natueco, popularized by Deepak Suchde, is built on the premise that it is possible to create a micro-climate to assure self-sufficiency. It follows the principles of ecosystem networking of nature in our farming system and emphasizes harvesting through a critical application of scientific inquiries and experiments that are rooted in the neighborhood resources. It depends on developing a thorough understanding of plant physiology, plant geometry of growth, plant fertility and plant biochemistry.

Like others, the 25-acre farm owned by Gautam Kangar at Bichdi village in Rajkot, follows the Natueco method and is lush with its banana grove, rose plants and lemon grass. Most farmlands are fenced with medicinal herbs like kakaj (Caesalpinia), senna (Cassia acutifolia), prickly pear (Opuntia (Cactaceae), jaljamini (Cocculus hirsutus), shatavri (Asparagus racemosus), neem, akado (Colotropis gigantean L.), guggul (Commiphora wightii), gliricidia, lemon grass, curry leaf, and adulsa (Justicia adhatoda). Besides creating a microclimate of sorts, these fences prevent the ingress of pests and bring in additional income to the farmers through the sale of its leaves and fruits.

“Prickly pear, which belongs to the cactus family, grows in the arid zones of the US and Mexico, as it does in India too, but through our research we have been to establish what Ayurveda literature has been claiming since long that its fruit is good for those who are anemic, especially those with low hemoglobin content,” says Sanjay Chauhan, associate professor of Pharmacy Department at Nadiad’s Dharamsee Desai University. “This makes our product unique.”

With Gujarat having become the ninth state in India to declare a policy for organic farming with a promise of offering a subsidy to those engaged in organic agriculture, it’s likely that more and more farmers will take to sustainable farming in the near future.

Hiren Kumar Bose is a journalist based in Thane, Maharashtra. He doubles up as a weekend farmer.

Rain Tree

C360_2017-01-30-09-36-59-810As we drove towards Varkhara from Kannur to meet Lakshmiamma, the recipient of Padmashri for kalarippayattu, we halted for coffee and found ourselves standing beneath a massive canopy. As I brought my vision on the ground I saw the girth of the rain-tree. It could easily hide around 10 people. The tree stood alone, its siblings long butchered by

As I brought my vision down I saw the girth of the rain-tree. It could easily hide around 10 people. The tree stood alone, its siblings butchered by an axe long time back.  Those who appreciated its canopy had installed plaque in its honour mentioning that it was 300-year-old. Think, if its siblings had been around too.

Tree On Fire

IMG_20170122_215116Nature never disappoints. The Palash trees around my farm have bloomed again —the yellowish-orange flowers making passersby notice its presence. This year it has been earlier than usual. Is it due to climate change? Maybe, yes. Days are not as warm as they were in the past. Among the shades of brown and green, the palash trees give the impression that as if there is a fire on the horizon. But if the horizon is unhindered you feel as if the tree has been lit up with hundreds of lamps.