Varsity is dipping into its plan funds to set up pilot plants on its campuses

Fighting a setback caused by the delayed release of funds sanctioned by the government, Kerala Agricultural University (KAU) is gearing up for commercial production of neera, a non-alcoholic drink made from the sap produced by coconut flowers.

The university is dipping into its plan funds to set up pilot plants on its campuses at Peelicode in Kasaragod, Vellanikara in Thrissur, and Vellayani in Thiruvananthapuram.

The government had earlier sanctioned Rs.5.4 crore to set up the three plants, each with a capacity of 1,000 litres a day. Following a decision by the government to stagger the release of funds, the university has been forced to fall back on its own resources to proceed with the original plan to set up the three units simultaneously.

“With the government going back on its commitment, the ambitious project faces a setback at a crucial stage when the decks have been cleared for commercial production,” says KAU executive council member P.A. Salam.

Vice-Chancellor P. Rajendran told The Hindu that efforts were on to procure the machinery for the three pilot plants. The KAU brand of neera, named Keramrutham, has already been released.

Three months’ shelf life

With a shelf life of more than three months under refrigeration, Keramrutham will be promoted as a health drink, nutritionally superior to tender coconut water. B. Jayaprakash Naik, Associate Director of Research, Coconut Mission, KAU, said commercial production of Keramrutham was expected to commence by April if things went according to schedule. He said KAU would tie up with a marketing partner, once the pilot plants went on stream.

The KAU has drawn up plans to use 10 per cent of the 18-crore coconut palms in Kerala for Neera production. It is estimated that a coconut palm will yield an average of 1.5 litres of sap a day. A farmer is expected to earn a profit of Rs.1,000 a month from a single palm after the amount spent on tapping, processing, establishment, and marketing charges. A palm can be tapped for six months at a stretch, with the remaining period utilised for production of coconut. About 25 per cent of the palms in a grove can be tapped for neera at a time.

Meanwhile, the Coconut Development Board is also preparing to launch its version of neera in the market.