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New technology for value addition to sweet toddy

By R. Ramabhadran Pillai

KOCHI, SEPT. 24. Efforts to make value-added products from coconut have reached a rewarding phase with the development of new technology for processing the sap derived from the coconut inflorescence. The technology can be utilised for making honey, jelly, toffee, granules and cake, according to M.P. Giridharan, Assistant Professor, Kerala Agricultural University.

The technology could be transferred to prospective entrepreneurs and the new products could become saviours of coconut-based industry which is facing several problems. Further, the new products would have the potential to boost the coconut farming sector, Mr. Giridharan told The Hindu.

The `vascular sap' is presently collected by toddy tappers and is sold as an alcoholic drink. It is the fermented sap which is available at the shops. The new technology is based on the fact that the sap, prior to its fermentation, is more nutritious and is useful for value addition.

Demand for jaggery

Toddy tapping is a traditional occupation of the rural communities in several countries. The toddy yield varies from 1 to 5 litres per palm per day. Presently, the only value-added product made from toddy is jaggery. Jaggery making was a cottage industry in Malabar for many years, but it had declined mainly due to inadequate marketing and meagre patronage from customers.

In Kerala, the fate of the coconut farmer and coconut farming revolves around the market price of copra and coconut oil. Revival of jaggery trade can boost the fortunes of the farmer, according to Mr. Giridharan. Being a traditional art, jaggery making does not require much investment .

"The organised jaggery industry in countries like Indonesia, Sri Lanka and Thailand should be an eye-opener to us,'' he says.

The international demand for coconut jaggery is increasing at a very fast rate thanks to the high level of health consciousness among the people in Western countries .

Indonesia, the Philippines, Sri Lanka and Thailand are not in a position to meet the ever-increasing demand for coconut jaggery in the U.S., France, Switzerland, Japan and Saudi Arabia. Recently, China has also emerged as a potential importer. If coconut jaggery can be marketed as an organic food by tapping palms from organically grown gardens, the demand will further increase. The medicinal value of coconut jaggery can also be highlighted.

Job potential

If coconut jaggery making is popularised in an organised way in Kerala, this cottage industry can provide employment to many people.

The average monthly net return from 10 palms per month by jaggery making is approximately Rs.2,000, whereas that from nut production will be hardly Rs.300, according to Mr. Giridharan.

The new technology for making granules out of coconut sap could become a real money-spinner. Mr. Giridharan is confident that the nutritious product can become a good competitor to the health drinks available in the market.

He also disclosed that the process of setting up a pilot plant to make some of the products employing the new technologies was underway.

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