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Trouble cooking: Kokum tree could become extinct by 2050 due to climate change

Changes in rainfall and temperatures along India’s west coast could wipe out Garcinia Indica — the tree that yields kokum — by 2050, says a study.

india Updated: Dec 20, 2017 10:20 IST
Badri Chatterjee
Badri Chatterjee
Hindustan Times, Mumbai
Kokum tree,coastal Maharashtrian cuisine,climate change
The kokum fruit is a source of citric acid, garcinol, several other nutrients and antioxidant compounds.

The kokum fruit, which lends a distinctive tanginess to coastal Maharashtrian cuisine, could become rarer, or even extinct, because of climate change, reveals a study.

Changes in rainfall and temperatures along the country’s west coast could wipe out Garcinia Indica — the tree that yields kokum — by 2050, the study by Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), New Delhi, University of Tokyo, Japan, and GB Pant National Institute of Himalayan Environment and Sustainable Development, Uttarakhand, has revealed.

The study, released earlier this month, covered an area of 1,71,223 sq km in south Maharashtra coast, Goa and north coastal Karnataka, and estimated that 82.6% of the land (1,51,904 sq. km) will become ‘unsuitable’ or ‘very low suitable’ for kokum cultivation, reducing the tree’s distribution. The tree is already listed as a ‘threatened’ species by the Botanical Survey of India.

The researchers, who tried to predict the impact of future climatic scenarios on the species, used 19 bioclimatic predictors (variables) from the Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change’s (IPCC) climate model, to forecast isothermal conditions (where temperatures remain constant) and annual rainfall.

Garcinia Indica, indigenous to India’s western coastline, is part of the mangosteen family.

The tree requires a dry winter and a wet summer, with mean annual temperatures between 20 and 24 degrees Celsius, and 2,000-4,000mm annual rainfall.

“In recent years, climate change has become a major threat and has been widely documented in the geographic distribution of many plant species. However, the impacts of climate change on the distribution of ecologically vulnerable medicinal species, such as Garcinia indicia, remains largely unknown,” said Malay Kumar Pramanik, lead author and PhD scholar, JNU.

“Through this paper, we were able to predict possible scenarios for the survival of this plant species, and the results reveal a drastic reduction in their distribution where temperature seasonality, isothermality, annual precipitation, and precipitation of wettest period, are the main influencing parameters for their predicted distribution,” he said.

State government officials said that an adaptation policy to help the state cope with changing climatic conditions and its adverse impact was floated last month keeping in mind such scenarios.

“It is a useful study as it will put up a red flag for the state agriculture department. Garcinia indicia is important, especially for the Konkan coastline, as it is a cash crop. If wiped out, one important source of revenue might be wiped out,” said Satish Gavai, additional chief secretary, state environment department.

He added that under the state’s climate change policy, besides working on reducing pollution and changing climate, ensuring crops, trees and threatened plant species become more climate resilient was the other aspect.

The tree’s fruit is used to flavour fish curries and lends the pink colour and tartness to the Sol Kadi drink.

Food experts reacted with alarm to the prospect of Konkani cuisine without one of its staple ingredients.

Thomas Zacharias, chef-partner, The Bombay Canteen, said: “Since our restaurants have a focus on traditional cuisine, kokum is used extensively... It will have an adverse impact for us as we may not have a direct substitution for it. If lost, it will affect the integrity of the cuisine.”

First Published: Dec 20, 2017 07:01 IST