Areca farmers are worried on two counts: decreased yield because of plant diseases and possible decline in demand as more States ban gutka.

A potential way out of this situation, says the Kasaragod-based Central Plantation Crops Research Institute (CPCRI) is switching to cocoa, coconut and banana.

George V. Thomas, Director of the CPCRI, which functions under the Indian Council for Agricultural Research (ICAR), told The Hindu that cocoa beans produced locally met only 40 per cent of the domestic requirement. The remaining was being imported.

Demand

Mr. Thomas said that farmers who grow cocoa as an inter-crop in arecanut plantations could opt for large-scale cultivation in view of the demand.

A cocoa plant yields from the third year of planting.

He said that arecanut growers could switch over to coconut cultivation as well. Mr. Thomas said that the CPCRI has developed a technology to extract virgin coconut oil from fresh coconut kernels.

It has a high value product and has export potential. If this latest technology is used, broken coconut need not be dried to make copra.

New technology

Additionally, the CPCRI has developed technology for making crispy chips from coconut.

He said that ‘kole roga’ (fruit rot disease) and ‘haladi roga’ (yellow leaf disease) were the two main diseases affecting arecanut plantations.

The former could be cured. But there was no cure for yellow leaf disease now.

But the CPCRI is now conducting an experiment to find out if tissue-cultured arecanut palms could withstand the yellow leaf disease.

He said that the government had been cautioning farmers against expanding area under arecanut both in traditional and non-traditional areas.

The CPCRI was firm in this recommendation even now.