The decks have been cleared for the commercial production of neera, a non- alcoholic drink made from the sap produced by coconut flowers, based on technology developed by the Kerala Agricultural University (KAU).
As many as three pilot plants were being set up by KAU on its campuses at Peelikode in Kasaragod district, Vellanikara in Thrissur, and Vellayani in Thiruvananthapuram. KAU Vice-Chancellor P. Rajendran told The Hindu that the government had sanctioned Rs.5.4 crore to set up the three plants, each with a capacity of 1,000 litres per day.
KAU had developed methods for the extraction of neera and standardised the technology for arresting the fermentation of the sap and its preservation. Dr. Rajendran said the university had applied for a patent on the technology.
The KAU brand of neera named Keraamritham is scheduled to be released here on November 6 by Chief Minister Oommen Chandy. With a shelf life of more than three months under refrigeration, Keraamritham will be promoted as a health drink, nutritionally superior to tender coconut water. Studies conducted by KAU had revealed that neera contained 15 to 18 per cent of total sugars, 1.3 mg per 100 ml of vitamin C, 90.5 ppm (parts per million) of potassium, 60 ppm of calcium, 15 ppm of phosphorous, 45 ppm of iron, and 9.5 ppm of sodium.
“There is scope for large-scale production of neera by adopting improved packing and preservation technologies,” B. Jayaprakash Naik, Associate Director of Research, Coconut Mission, KAU, said. The product could be packaged in pouches, HDPE bottles, or in other forms of packaging, with different treatment methods to extend the shelf life.
A coconut palm will yield an average of 1.5 litres of sap per day. Considering that a 150-ml bottle of neera can be sold at Rs.20, a farmer can gain a profit of Rs.1,000 per month from a single palm, after the amount spent on tapping and the processing, establishment and marketing charges.
A palm can be tapped for six months a year at a stretch, with the remaining period utilised for production of coconut. It is estimated that 20 to 30 per cent of the palms in a grove can be used for tapping at a time.
“In view of the high cost of cultivation and low price of coconut, the sustainability of the coconut sector depends on value addition, product diversification, farm-level processing, and by product utilisation,” Dr. Naik said.
KAU had taken up a State-level programme to impart technical training in neera tapping and production. The State budget had earmarked Rs.15 crore to establish neera manufacturing units in 10 districts. KAU had also developed the technology for production of palm jaggery from coconut (Kerachakkara) and palm honey as allied products.