Sunday 23 April 2017 News Updated at 08:04 AM IST
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Globally attuned with fruits - Deccan Herald
Globally attuned with fruits
Ganesh Hegde Neelesara, April 11, 2017, DHNS
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flavours that linger Exotic fruits such as cempedak, maindapuli and biriba are grown in Anil Balanja's farm in Belthangady taluk. Photo by author
For those who are passionate about fruits, here is a farm that has all the potential to be their favourite destination. It’s not just the number, but also the variety that fascinates a visitor to the farm of Anil Balanja, a farmer based in Balanja village, Belthangady taluk, Dakshina Kannada district. Apart from the usual fruit varieties, he is growing hundreds of exotic tropical fruits. Many of the exotic fruits grown here are unique and some of them even have medicinal properties.

One such fruit is a tiny sweet and sour red-coloured berry. After taking a bite of this, place a piece of lemon in your mouth. Alas, the lemon tastes sweet! So, is the lemon itself sweet or is it because of the fruit you ate first? Yes and in fact, its name is Synsepalum dulcificum or miracle fruit. Anything sour you eat after having this amazing fruit tastes sweet! This is one of the many exotic fruits Anil has in his farm.

Rare varieties
Essentially an areca and rubber farmer, Anil developed an interest for rare and exotic fruits five years ago. His father, Krishna Sharma, also loved fruits and had grown over 20 different jackfurit and mango varieties in his farm. Inspired by his father, Anil went several steps ahead to grow many varieties of fruit plants, most of which are largely unheard of and not seen in this part of the world.

Now, Anil has a collection of over 700 rare plants that are being grown in about 10 hectares of his farm land. About 150 of them have started bearing fruits. He collected them from various parts of the globe apart from nurseries and individual collectors in Karnataka and Kerala. About 75% of his plants are exotic. They are sourced from countries like Brazil, Indonesia, Thailand, Malaysia, Africa, Australia and Mexico. Anil’s friends from different countries get seeds that are allowed to be brought here. Sometimes it takes several days to reach him after a lengthy procedure, which adds to the actual cost of the plant. "One can buy any allowed fruit plant or seed from foreign countries after completing the legalities,” says Anil.
Anil also purchases seeds online. "Social media like Facebook have been useful in networking with like-minded people,” he states. Anestor Mozamo from Brazil and Larsac from Thailand are two friends who have helped Anil gather more than 50 varieties of rare fruit plants.

He is open for exchange of plants and seeds with fruit enthusiasts. "He is always in a hunt for new fruit plants,” says Balachandra Sayimane, one of his friends who presented him several fruit seeds.

Dr L C Soans of Soans Farms, Moodabidre, a doyen of horticulture, has helped him with several varieties of plants. Anil’s family also supports him wholeheartedly in this endeavour.

Fruits such as kepel from Indonesia, santol from Malaysia, abiu from the Amazon basin, Australian finger lime, cempedak, langsat, macadamia, blackberry, caimito, avocado, pulasan, gac fruit, jabuticaba, and dragon fruit are grown in Anil’s farm.

What is also interesting is that he has several varieties of a single species in his farm. For instance, he has 25 varieties of cherry, 30 varieties of Annonaceae (custard apple) and 30 varieties of Garcinia among others. Though growing some of these varieties is expensive, it does not stop Anil from pursuing his passion. Pointing to a tiny plant, he says, "It took me Rs 25,000 to have it here from Brazil.”

Providing good care
One can also find seedless varieties of mango, jackfruit, lemon, guava and jamun growing in his farm. Anil’s interest goes beyond fruits too. He also has a collection of a variety of tubers and medicinal plants.

Grafting has helped Anil collect many varieties without losing their original character.

Anil maintains a complete record of each plant starting from the place and date of its collection to the date of harvest. The record also includes information like scientific name of the plant, kind of climate and management required, time of flowering, date of first crop, weight of fruits, taste, medicinal properties and so on.

As many of the new plants are not native, Anil initially grows them in a polyhouse where even the seeds are kept for sprouting. Then he studies several factors essential for their growth and fruiting like desired temperature, water requirement, soil condition, and proportion of shade and sunshine. Polyhouse facilitates the plant’s acclimatisation to native climatic conditions. Some seeds need over six months to sprout. He takes special care to get rid of fungal and pest infestation during the period.

Pests like stem borers pose problems for the growth of the plants. Bordeaux spray is used whenever required. Plants are grown largely on organic manure. "I have not planned to start a nursery of these fruit plants as of now because I am only in the initial stages and many of them are yet to bear fruits,” he says.

Anil’s achievement has been recognised by the Department of Horticulture, and Central Horticultural Experiment Station, Chettalli. His farm is slowly becoming a paradise for all fruit and nature enthusiasts. Apart from Karnataka and other parts of the country, enthusiasts from countries such as USA, Australia, Thailand and Malaysia visit his farm. Ken Love, a farmer and fruit expert from Hawaii, USA, is one such visitor who praised Anil’s efforts.

After a visit to Anil’s farm, you will be tempted to present him a new seed or sapling which you have come across, though it is most unlikely that he may not be growing it already!

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