Scientists introduce China’s monkfruit in Himachal
In a first, scientists of CSIR’s Institute of Himalayan Bioresource Technology (IHBT), Palampur, have introduced the cultivation of monkfruit in Kullu district of Himachal Pradesh.
IHBT director Sanjay Kumar said monkfruit cultivation was initiated on a trial basis by planting 50 seedlings in farmer Manav Khullar’s fields at Raison in Naggar tehsil of Kullu on Monday. If successful, the fruit will be grown commercially.
Monkfruit (Siraitia grosvenorii) was originally grown only in China and known as luohan guo. It’s a small, green melon named after the monks who cultivated it. The fruit is known the world over for its sweetness and is used as a non-caloric natural sweetener.
Despite its demand, this crop was only cultivated in China till recently.
“Suitable agro-climatic conditions are also available in India, particularly in Himachal Pradesh. Keeping in mind the importance and essentiality of non-nutritive natural sweeteners, we have introduced monkfruit in Kullu,” Kumar said.
ICAR brought fruit seeds from China in 2018
He said the monkfruit seeds were brought to India from China through Indian Council of Agricultural Research’s National Bureau of Plant Genetic Resources, New Delhi, in March 2018.
Principal scientist Probir Kumar Pal and his team developed the technology for generating quality planting material, its basic agronomic cultivation practices, fruiting technique and post-harvest management.
At present, monkfruit is being cultivated at the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR)-run IHBT with good quality fruits under farm conditions. “The plant grows well in mountainous areas with an annual mean temperature of 16 to 20°C and humid conditions. Himachal Pradesh is a suitable for its large-scale cultivation,” said Kumar.
He said initially the project was funded by CSIR and now its cultivation is being promoted with financial support from the Himachal Pradesh Council for Science, Technology and Environment, Shimla.
Pal said the plant starts bearing fruit in eight months if the atmosphere is conducive. Experiments have shown that the average life of the plant is four to five years. The fruit weighs 60-65g and in some cases 100g. The average yield is 1kg from each plant.
Healthy alternative for sugar
Kumar said the intake of added cane sugar can lead to lifestyle diseases such as insulin resistance, Type-2 diabetes, liver problems, metabolic syndrome, and heart disease. Monkfruit offers a healthy alternative.
Since India is home to 6.24 crore people with Type-2 diabetes, this is a wonder fruit for them, said the director.
He said the IHBT has signed a material transfer agreement with Khullar and provided 50 plants of monkfruit for field trials.