There was a time when exotic fruits like kiwis, blueberries, dragon fruit, etc. were only found on the continental food menus of five star hotels. Today, you can easily find them in your local super-markets.
Exotic stands for anything “originating in or characteristic of a distant foreign country.” However, it is usually associated with tropical fruits. As Indian palettes open up to global cuisines, the domestic demand for exotic fruits and vegetables grows. India’s annual import of exotic fruits is estimated to be 4,00,000 tons annually and it’s valued at roughly Rs 40 billion. The exotic fruit market is estimated to be worth Rs.3000 crores. Exotic produce is priced higher too and is sold at 50% more than local fruits.
The demand for the exotic fruits in the list below is not relegated to urban areas in India. There is growing demand for exotics even in tier II and III
cities such as Nagpur, Kanpur and Raipur. In fact, the demand for exotic fruits in India had grown to such an extent than in 2021, the centre decided to promote 10 commercially viable exotic fruit crops in India. This directive was the result of the collaboration with UN body Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO).
As per the directive, the State Horticulture were given targets for expansions – 8,951 hectares were to be set apart for cultivation of exotic fruits and 7,154 hectares for indigenous fruits in 2021. The ten exotic fruit crops included avocado, blueberry, dragon fruit, figs, kiwi, mangosteen, persimmon, passion fruits, rambutans and strawberries. Let’s take a closer look at these fruit crops:
Crops that made it to the Exotic Fruits List
Avocado is all the rage among health-conscious Indian urbanites. It is a hefty oval-shaped fruit with a green skin, that turns a dark purple when it’s ripe. It is highly nutritious, and contains up to 4% protein and almost 30% of fat. Its origins can be traced to the Americas, namely south-central Mexico and Guatemala. In India, varieties of West Indian, Guatemalan, and Mexican avocados are cultivated in Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, and Karnataka. There is scope to expand cultivation in southern India and in the humid semi-tropical parts of Northeast.
An avocado tree can yield between 100 to 500 fruits. In Sikkim, up to 300-400 fruits can be harvested from 10-15 year old trees. Avocados are not a commercial crop in India, even though India has the climatic conditions suited for profitable avocado farming. Despite avocados being popular across the world, it has not been very popular in India. The avocado has a fatty, almost bland taste compared to the sweet unique flavour of other exotic fruits in India, and it is often used in savoury dishes. This doesn’t always suit the taste of most Indians. However, it is cultivated and enthusiastically consumed across the Northeast. It will take time for the rest of the country to follow suit. The immediate plan is to cultivate avocados in India to satisfy the palette of international tourists.
Blueberries are native to North America. Over the past few years, they have become increasingly popular among those in urban areas. However, owing to the high cost (almost Rs 250 for 125 gm of fresh berries), not everyone eats it regularly. It is usually a popular ingredient in continental desserts.
Owing to the growing popularity of these sweet berries, there is pressure to grow them domestically. They can only be grown in high hills, therefore pilot projects were initiated in Himachal Pradesh by fruit scientists at Agricultural University, Palampur. The Horticulture Department, along with some farmers in Kullu were able to successfully grow blueberries there. After careful market analysis, in May 2022, Hortifrut and IG Berries announced a $20 million investment towards increasing berry production in India.
3. Dragon fruit
Dragon fruit cultivationDragon fruit which is imported from South-East Asia, gets its name from the bright leathery skin covered with scaly spikes. It has been in high demand since 2014 and over the past few years, it has become popular among Indian farmers. One huge plus point is that dragon fruits are easy to cultivate and maintain. It’s from the cacti family, and grows well even in semi-arid and arid regions and does not require a lot of water. A fruit weighs around 200 to 700 gm and an acre can yield unto 5 tons.
Nowadays dragon fruit is cultivated in Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, West Bengal, Tamil Nadu, Odisha, Maharashtra, Gujarat and the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, as well as in the Northeast. Roughly 3,000-4,000 hectares are under dragon fruit cultivation and these states produces around 12,000 tons of the fruit annually.
The fruits are in high demand in cities and easily fetches between Rs 50 to Rs 120 per kg. It also has huge export potential, especially in the Persian Gulf countries, Europe and United States.
Approximately, 1.26 million tons of figs are produced in the world. Figs, popularly known as anjeer, are popular in India. Figs are perishable and can be refrigerated for 2 to 3 days at most. This is why they are available either fresh, dried or preserved (as jams).
The total area under fig cultivation in India is around 5,600 hectares. We produce around 13,802 tons of figs annually. It is cultivated in Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra, Gujarat and Uttar Pradesh. Out of these, almost 90-92% of figs are produced in Pune district of Maharashtra. The most popular fig variety grown in India is “Poona”.
Stats show that fig cultivation is profitable and it’s spreading to new areas. For example, Telengana produced 1607 metric tons of figs in 2021-22. They also received assistance from Mission for Integrated Development of Horticulture. Similarly, fresh figs carrying the GI tag from Purandar taluka of Maharashtra’s Pune district were exported to Germany this year.
This fuzzy skinned, green-fleshed fruit from New Zealand has been appearing regularly on Indian tables over the past decade, thanks to well-travelled Indian consumers. As per reports, kiwifruit imports have been growing annually by 25%. Currently, India imports 4,000 tons of kiwis from New Zealand annually. Therefore, it was only a matter of time before kiwi cultivation was initiated in India.
Today 6.47 thousand tons of kiwi fruits are produced in India. They are cultivated in areas of Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland, Mizoram, Himachal Pradesh, Sikkim, Manipur, and Jammu Kashmir. Arunachal Pradesh leads in kiwi production, contributing to 56.5% of the total kiwifruit produced in India. In October 2020, Arunachal Pradesh became the first state in India to obtain an organic certification for kiwi.
Kiwis are highly nutritious and can be cultivated profitably. It provides a high return per unit area, generating between Rs. 4 to 5 lakhs per hectare annually. However, better planting material, improved awareness of growing and pollination methods, great storage facilities, proper packaging, etc. are needed to bring it up to par with New Zealand kiwis. Processing units too can be set up since kiwis are added to juices, wines, spirits, candies, etc.
Mangosteen fruits have a hard deep purple shell covering a delicate and delicious white fruit underneath. It is native to South Eastern Asian countries, but grows well in the tropical climate of South India.
The fruits are usually sold fresh, but they can also be processed for making jellies, squash, syrup and canned fruits. The peel and seeds have medicinal value too and are often used in infusions to treat gastrointestinal infections, as well as infections of the skin and urinary tract, among other things.
Mangosteen is in high demand in the market and command a high price. The trees take 5 years to mature, but can give fruits for decades. They are also sturdy and can withstand a few days of water logging, making them ideal for Kerala farmers, many of whom are replacing their nutmeg trees with mangosteen. Kerala produces 1,000 tons of mangosteen making them the leading producer of the fruit, followed by Tamil Nadu at 200 tons.
7. Persimmon (Japani fruit)
Persimmons (Japani fruit) are native to China, but the variety found in India was first introduced by Europeans in 1921 in Kullu, Himachal Pradesh. It is now cultivated in Himachal Pradesh, Kashmir, Uttarkhand and Nilgiri Hills.
Persimmons look like tomatoes, but they have a vibrant orange flesh, a fibrous pulpy texture, and an almost honey-like taste when fully ripe. They can last up to two months if stored in a temperature between 0-2 degrees celsius. They can also be preserved by drying.
Persimmons can be cultivated under the same conditions as apples. Similar to apple trees, persimmon trees take 4-5 years to mature and bear fruits. These trees can tolerate harsh winters too, making them ideal fruit crops for hilly regions. Various districts in Himachal Pradesh produce up to 3000 tons pf persimmons per year. They cost Rs 100 when they are in season and can clock between Rs 150-300 during the off-season. The high demand and low availability of these fruits makes them especially profitable for those who cultivate it.
Passion fruit is native to Brazil and grows well in tropical and sub-tropical parts of the world. The unique flavour makes it perfect for the processed food industry where it’s used in the production of juices and concentrates. It also has various medicinal qualities, and research shows that it can be used to treat a wide variety of ailments from asthma to gastric cancer.
Passion fruit was introduced to India in the early part of twentieth century but cultivation was limited to a few areas in Karnataka , Kerala and Tamil Nadu. Over the last decade, cultivation has spread to northern India and the Northeast(Mizoram, Nagaland, Manipur and Sikkim). Now, there is an estimated 9.11 thousand hectares under passionfruit cultivation and the annual production is estimated to be 45.82 thousand tons. There is potential for further passionfruit cultivation in these regions since they have the perfect environment for it.
Rambutan is a close cousin of the Indian litchi and it is native to Indonesia, Malaysia and southern Thailand. Rambutans thrive in tropical environments, making them a perfect match for South India.
Unlike the litchi, rambutan fruits are covered in long, thick pink and red “hair”. Each fruit weighs about 25-30 gm and they are white, juicy and sweet. There is strong export potential for rambutans In the long run. They can also be processed into pulp, fruit concentrates, jelly, etc. much like litchis. They are a rich source of vitamin C and sugars, which makes them a perfect option for contributing towards the country’s nutritional security.
In India rambutans are mostly cultivated in home gardens of South India, namely districts of Kerala, the Nilgiris districts of Tamil Nadu, Dakshina Kannada and Kodagu districts of Karnataka. Rough estimates show that the crop is cultivated in less than 500 acres. However, there is good potential for expanding rambutan production in Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Karnataka.
Strawberries are cultivated in Mahabaleshwar, Himachal Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Delhi, Haryana, Punjab, Nainital, Uttarakhand, Kashmir, and Ooty. Strawberries require a temperate cool climate, but some strawberry varieties cab be grown in sub-tropical climates as well. They are cultivated in open fields during September-October and harvested in May-June. However, owing to the high year-long demand for these berries, they are now cultivated in greenhouses during the off-season. This also allows them to fetch a higher price.
Strawberries are highly sought after, but they are expensive to grow. The plants have to be imported from Italy and US, and it needs to be replanted every year. Climate factors like untimely monsoon and winter rains have affected strawberry cultivation in Mahabaleshwar which has about 3000 acres of this berry. New berries like blueberries and raspberries are slowly becoming more attractive for farmers in these areas. Blueberries, for example, need to be planted only once and yields for years to come. They also fetch around Rs 1000 per kg in the market compared to the Rs 70-80 per kg for strawberries.
Exotic fruits in India are usually expensive due to the fact that they incur costs for packaging, transportation, storage, processing, etc. However, there is growing demand for it and Indian farmers are happy to capitalise on it. This has much to do with the westernisation of the Indian society and the change in diet and lifestyle. Therefore, do expect to see more tropical exotic fruits in India to become as common as apples, oranges and strawberries (the original exotic fruits) in the coming years.
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Sources: PIB, PIB PDF, FAO.org, Researchgate, MapsofIndia, Blueberry: Tribune India, Gardening Tips, Rambutan: Research Gate, Dragonfruit: Punekarnews, Deccan Herald, Economic Times Avocado: Krishijagran, India Times, Strawberry: Agriculture Guruji, TOI, Figs: TOI, Researchgate, Financial Express, Wlimg, Kiwi: cihner.gov.in, Researchgate, Mygov.in, Persimmon: Business Kashmir, Mangosteen: icar.org.in, Civil Society Online