NEW DELHI: India is looking at the Chinese market to push its new variety of custard apple (Sharifa or Sitaphal) which despite being quite high on nutritional value and having a higher shelf life compared to the traditional variety could not become a popular export earlier.
India had requested China to give export clearance to the new variety of custard apple – called Arka Sahan — when Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited China in May.
Subsequent inquiries from Beijing has enthused scientists back home, specially in the Indian Institute of Horticulture Research (IIHR), Bangalore that took 17 years to develop this variety. It is claimed to be unmatched in terms of nutritional value, size and shelf life.
“Though Arka Sahan is similar to custard apple (known as Sitaphal in south India and other parts of the country), it is a new fruit in itself. It took 17 years to be evolved as this elite hybrid,” said S H Jalikop, retired principal scientist of the IIHR, who was involved with the breeding of this new variety.
He told TOI: “Arka Sahan is not a pure Sitaphal, but it is a new fruit that is made up with two different fruit species. It is made up of 75% Sitaphal and 25% Cherimoya.”
The IIHR scientists had developed it as a new fruit the way several fruits had been developed in other parts of the world where two or three fruit varieties are crossed to make a completely new variety and marketed as new fruits.
Jalikop gave examples of new fruits like Plumcot (Plum and Apricot hybrid), Aprium (Apricot and Plum hybrid) and Peacotum (Plum, Peach and Apricot hybrid) that are commercially cultivated in the USA.
Though the traditional variety of custard apple (fruit of South American origin) is quite well known in many parts of India, it could not get wider consumer acceptance due to poor shelf life and presence of abundant seeds. It, however, got acceptance in its new ‘avatar’ as Arka Sahan in domestic market when the IIHR scientists had first come out with it in the year 2000.
The fruit derives its name from Arkavati river that flows close to the IIHR, Bangalore. Jalikop said, “Fruit, vegetable and flower varieties, bred in the institute, carry prefix ‘Arka’. The ‘Sahan’ stands for ‘patience’ as new fruit takes time to ripe and ripe fruits stay long as compared to the traditional Sitaphal (Sharifa) which is notorious for fast ripening and very poor shelf life.”
With these new properties, the Arka Sahan has become best suitable for long distance transport or export. It has also become a commercially important fruit only in recent times. Demand for grafted planting material from the institute is also increasing.
“Ever since it was released in the year 2000, about 2 lakh grafts have been sold to farmers as on October 15. It might have covered about 500 hectares of land in different states,” said P Sampath Kumar, principal scientist of the IIHR, who had worked with Jalikop on breeding Arka Sahan for nearly eight years.