Wholesale traders say the arrival of coconuts has come down, especially from Tiruchi district, impacting the prices of the nut.
The severe drought condition that prevailed for nearly a year since the monsoon failure has taken a heavy toll on palm trees across the State, pushing up the retail price of the nuts in the market.
As one travels around Tiruchi, Karur, and other districts, a large number of palm trees could be seen withered completely. Those which are still alive have just a few green fronds amidst several dried ones.
Apart from big farmers who raise the trees in exclusive grooves, many small and marginal farmers grow coconut trees around their fields and farm houses bringing them some much needed income. The damage to the trees has impacted heavily on the livelihood of the farmers. Normally farmers take up to six harvests a year.
“Nearly 60 to 70 per cent of coconut trees across the State have withered during the severe and unprecedented drought condition that has prevailed for over a year. In our farm, over 60 trees have completely withered. We could not even find buyers for the dead coconut trees, normally used for making wooden reapers, owing to a glut in the market,” says Mahadhanapuram V. Rajaram, working president, Cauvery Delta Farmers’ Welfare Association.
A healthy tree will yield about 20 to 24 nuts a harvest. Now the trees have just three or four green fronds and yield hardly six to seven nuts. Trees which are still alive need some rains to grow fresh fronds and it will take another six months for them to give good yield. Depending on the varieties, coconut tree yields for 10 to 20 years. Farmers normally could get an income of about Rs.200 to 250. Even if farmers plant saplings afresh, they would have to wait for about five years to start getting yield from them, he says.
Mr. Rajaram says that the Agriculture Department has already conducted a survey to assess the extent of damage to coconut trees on account of the drought. Requesting the State government to sanction a minimum of Rs.5,000 a tree, he said the National Highways Authority of India had paid farmers up to Rs. 8,000 as compensation for every tree that was felled for the widening of the Tiruchi-Karur National Highway section in recent years.
Sources in the Agriculture Department confirmed that the survey had been carried out. Over 57,000 coconut trees have been damaged in Tiruchi district alone and a report has been forwarded to the government by the district administration a month ago. Meanwhile, consumers have also been hit as the price of coconut, used widely in everyday cooking, has gone up over the past two months, especially during this festival season. In the wholesale market at Tiruchi, top quality nuts are being sold at Rs.18 to 20 apiece, up by four to five rupees. The retail price is usually higher by at least Rs.2 a nut.
Wholesale traders say that arrivals have come down, especially from Tiruchi district. “Normally, we get about 1.50 lakh nuts a day from different places including Tiruchi district but over the past month arrivals have down to just about a lakh. Currently, we are getting nuts mostly from Theni, Cumbum and Peravoorani. The price of Pollachi coconuts rules very high and hence there are not many takers. Many consumers have cut down on buying coconuts,” says A. Ibrahim, a wholesale coconut trader at the Gandhi Market in the city. He says that the price of the nuts are likely to rule high at least until the Tamil month of Thai (in mid-January) when arrivals are expected to pick up.