top of page
  • Writer's picturecuncolimnews

Bab Keni ... the Jackfruit man from Cuncolim

By Valmiki Faleiro

Talk of "Bab Keni" and you are talking of a living legend. A man who, more for love than money, persevered to preserve the best of jackfruit from Goa and beyond, for our generations to come. He is a much-decorated "Progressive Farmer" of Goa.

Prabhakar M. Keni (hardly anybody knows Bab Keni by his real name) hails from Cuncolim, in Salcete. He had a cushy bank job, while his father tended to a horticulture farm in neighbouring Bali. The father had inherited a small farm from his own father, but purchased adjoining land in 1954 to build an impressive acreage. Bab Keni was hauled from bank to barn, by his father's advancing age.

The negligible he knew about farming was from home hearsay. For some time Bab Keni could bank on his father's accumulated experience. Here was a farmer who began reluctantly, and today, 32 years on, is an accomplished pioneer in several areas.

Strangely, it wasn't his passion for Jackfruit that catapulted Bab Keni to

fame. From the best cashew tree on the farm, he developed a graft and

christened it "Bali-1" (maybe in line with "Vengurla-1" of Dapoli's Konkan

Krishi Vidyapeeth Vengurla research station.) Bali-1 was an instant hit, for its quality and yield. The ICAR later developed the "Bali-2," from another mother tree on Bab Keni's farm.

"Bali" is because the farm is located in that village. (About two kilometres into the Bali-Quepem road from the main crossroads of the village on NH-17,just past the KRC overbridge and a temple on the left, you will find a kutcha road proceeding towards right. Take this track; the farm gate is at the end, a distance of half a kilometre.)

Bab Keni's mainstay is jackfruit. Over the years, he picked the best from

within Goa and scoured for ideal strains in Karnataka, Kerala and Maharashtra.

He has painstakingly built a gene bank of 23 distinct varieties. All "Kapes," the drier version ("Rosall" is to jackfruit what "Ghonta" are to mango.) He has some 70 jackfruit Mother Trees, from which he propagates grafts. Among the best are varieties from Goa, Kerala and Kumbharwada in Karnataka.

His star "centre forward," however, is a graft he made from a tree in

Khanapur, near Belgaum. The fruit is awesome, some three feet in length! The bulbs ("ghore") are three-and-half inches long, whitish in colour, slightly moist but a sweet enough formula for surefire diabetes. Seeds are so virile that they sprout when it drizzles, even as the fruit ripens on the tree. Bab Keni was generous with a sample.

I have a notable variety in my own house compound. "Paixao Pereira" is rare on taste, texture, aroma, and colour. Planted by an ancestor of the Paixao Pereiras of Guirdolim, who previously owned the land ... its name unknown, I call it by the planter's family name! Bab Keni sampled the fruit, certified its goodness, and agreed to make grafts before the ancient tree becomes history: one for me (for replacement), another for his gene pool.

Bab Keni's "paixao" (passion) for the jackfruit is rare. Last May-end, he was told of a good variant in some godforsaken village of interior Karnataka. A bit late: just one fruit was left on the tree. He rushed, liked what he saw,and requested the owners to telephone him moment the fruit ripened on the tree. He awaited the call -- to rush again and sample the fruit. If it meets with Bab Keni's demanding standards, he'll be back early-July, to collect

scions for grafting.

What but pure passion could spur a man in his late sixties on such short-

notice, back-breaking jeep drives? (History repeats itself: Bab Keni's son, a graduate in Agriculture, works for a leading bank in Kolhapur.) Bab Keni estimates he must have propagated more than 2,000 jackfruit grafts. His single biggest order: 50 grafts by the Pilar Fathers for their farm in Madhya Pradesh.

Bab Keni's acres make a fine mélange of species ... cashew, coconut, an array of mango (Goan and hybrid, of which he also makes grafts for sale), assorted fruits and spices, like nutmeg selections, vanilla -- even the exotic Mangosteen, a black fruit with succulent white segments inside, a meltingly delicious cross between grape and strawberry. More like Bab Keni himself...

The greatness of the man emerges from another uncommon trait: ask him anything on farming and unhesitatingly, out rolls encyclopaedic knowledge, 'secrets' and all. It's clear he does it for more than mere money. With people like Bab Keni and the ICAR, Goa does have reasons to cheer! (As with the "Mollekars" of Veling, who we shall visit next Sunday.) (ENDS)


The above article appeared in the July 2, 2006 edition of the Herald, Goa -------------------------------------- if you wish to know more about 'Ponnos' (both the juicy and dry types)

try and meet a Goan who has done the greatest amountof work in collecting a gene pool of the best varieties of jackfruit from all over South India. Nobody to my knowledge has done anything even faintly resembling the work of this man on 'Ponnos' and cashew. (The Balli-1,Balli-2 and Balli-3 varieties of cashew were developed on his farm, the first by himself, the next two by the ICAR - Indian Council of Agricultural Research -- and he should, hopefully, once the official process of yield certification is complete, maybe two/three from now, provide India's highest-ever yielding cashew variety.)
He is popularly known as "Bab Keni" (Prabhakar M. Keni, a decorated Progressive Farmer), who has a mother bank of about 84 different varieties of Jackfruit in his farm at Balli-Cuncolim, from where he annually makes grafts and propagates on a no-profit basis. Bab Keni lives in Sanvorcotto-Cuncolim, but spends a better part of the  day at his farm in Balli. 
If you photograph only the variety of trees (not the number!) on his farm, you will produce a book!

181 views0 comments


bottom of page