Neera production and distribution that is being planned in the State in a major way may boost the incomes of coconut farmers.
A frequent complaint of coconut farmers, especially those in rural areas, has been that coconut farming is increasingly unprofitable. They often sell raw coconuts to “middle-men” at a price of Rs. 4 or Rs. 5 each. The produce is then sold in retail outlets at Rs. 15 per nut.
The productivity level of coconut in Kerala improved (5.5 per cent) significantly, but is still lower than that in other southern States.
In the context of farmers terming coconut farming unprofitable, promotion of Neera is a major development in the State’s agriculture sector. A sum of Rs. 15 crore has been earmarked in the 2012-13 Budget for production and popularisation of value-added coconut inflorescence sap.
In July, the State government cleared three pilot projects of the Kerala Agricultural University (KAU), which would cost Rs. 5.4 crore, for demonstration, training, production and distribution of Neera, a health drink. Three units of KAU for Neera production and processing will be based at Pilicode, Vellanikkara and Vellayani.
Neera is the sweet, oyster white-coloured sap tapped from the immature inflorescence of coconut.
The collected sap is then subjected to filtration, refrigeration, centrifuging, processing and packaging. The processed product has a shelf life of one year. Value-added products such as palm syrup, palm jaggery and palm sugar too can be produced from the sap.
According to T. K. Jose, chairman, CDB, Neera production can contribute substantially to the Gross State Domestic Production (GSDP).
“If 50 per cent of the consumer price of Neera is offered to the coconut farmer, 25 per cent to the Neera worker and the remaining 25 per cent is earmarked for processing, packaging and marketing, the outcome is an all-round increase in the incomes of all stakeholders. If 10 per cent of the palms in the State are tapped, the contribution of Neera to the GSDP would amount to Rs. 54,000 crore (with market price of Neera pegged at Rs.100 per litre). The generation of rural employment through Neera will be around 10 lakhs. The total income to the work force of Neera will be around Rs.13,500 crore. The income of coconut farmers will be about Rs.27,000 crore. About Rs.4,050 crore will be generated as tax revenue to the state through the increased purchasing power of the farmers and workers,” he was quoted as saying.
There could be roughly 17 per cent increase in GSDP through Neera production. Production of palm syrup, palm jaggery and coconut palm sugar may add more value to GSDP.
The KAU has named the Neera it plans to produce Keramritham.
KAU Vice-Chancellor P. Rajendran said one tapper could tap at least 12 palms a day, extracting an average of 18 litres per day, and this would produce a minimum of nine litres of Keramritham. “If it is sold at Rs. 20 per 150 ml bottle, the monthly income from 12 palms will be Rs.36,000. The minimum net income will be 12,000. The KAU has also developed technologies for producing coconut jaggery and coconut honey,” he said.