Custard apple or sitaphal (Annona squamosa) is a small tree well known for its extreme hardiness. The plant grows on a variety of soils and is extremely drought-tolerant. It is not grazed by any animal. The tree’s fruit can generate significant cash income for poor families. The fruits are also eaten and contribute to improved nutrition of poor communites.
The tree can be grown from seeds. Seedlings are hardy and generally survive without any aftercare.
During the dry season from January to June, plants survive in a dormant condition. With the onset of monsoon, plants are stimulated into active vegetative and reproductive growth. Mature fruits are available during the month of October-November and are prized as fresh fruits in urban markets.
Custard apple fruits are hard just before full maturity and easy to handle and transport. Fruits need to be sent to retail destinations in unripe form. After ripening, the fruits become soft and are highly perishable.
Project interventions to get good returns from custard apple trees include:
- promotion of plantation on farm bunds and along boundaries
- promotion of light pruning of trees and removing of small and deformed fruits
- setting up a marketing channel that will ensure good prices to growers.
In Shahada, Maharashtra, BAIF-promoted women’s SHGs are managing collective procurement, grading, packing and retail marketing of naturally grown custard apples.