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Coconut oil market in the country on the boil

K.A. Martin
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Fresh coconut exports have increased by 60 per cent

No free flow: Coconut oil being weighed and sold at an oil mill in Kochi. Small mills are finding it diffucult to survive these days. — PHOTO: K. K. Mustafah
No free flow: Coconut oil being weighed and sold at an oil mill in Kochi. Small mills are finding it diffucult to survive these days. — PHOTO: K. K. Mustafah

The coconutoil market in the country continues to be on the boil with a near 60 per cent increase in exports of fresh coconuts, rumours of strong enquiries from Sri Lanka for the produce and what a veteran of the trade here said were the unprecedented prices of products traditionally used to adulterate the oil.

The price spiral of Kerala's favourite cooking medium has forced scores of small millers off the scene and plunged the Kera Karshaka Sahakarana Federation (Kerafed), the coconut farmers' apex cooperative in the State, into substantial losses from the sale of its popular brand, Kera. Kerafed, sources said, suffers a loss of Rs.16 for every 1-litre Kera pouch sold. The maximum retail price is Rs.99.50, but this should be at least Rs.120 for the business to be viable given the current copra price. However, the cooperative has not pushed up the retail price.

The oil price, helped by rumours of massive enquiries from Sri Lanka and Bangladesh, touched Rs.91.50 a kg here on Thursday, a record in 26 years, the Coconut Oil Merchants' Association (Coma) said. The Coconut Development Board , designated authority for export of coconut products, did not confirm enquiries from the two countries. No licences had been issued for exports to Sri Lanka, board sources told The Hindu on Thursday.

Figures provided by the board indicate that there has been a big boom in the export of coconuts to the Gulf countries, where coconuts sell at Rs.40 apiece. Export of fresh coconuts during last financial year zoomed to 16,723 tonnes from the previous year's 6,814 tonnes. Actual figures for the current year are not available yet. However, board sources said that exports had jumped substantially this year because of the high price in the international market.

Shortage

Kerala, which derives its name from coconut trees, is witnessing an unprecedented shortage of coconuts. The board has reported about a 50 per cent fall in nut production. Arrival of both coconut oil and coconuts from neighbouring Tamil Nadu has dwindled to a trickle. M.M. Kurien, president of Coma, said that this being the middle of the lean season, there appeared no scope for the price to come down immediately.

The Kochi market, now swayed by prices at Kangayam in Tamil Nadu, has virtually exhausted its stock of copra. Not even National Agricultural Cooperative Marketing Federation (Nafed) offices in Tamil Nadu had substantial copra stocks, sources said. There is no copra stock with Kochi Nafed either and the stock position in Kozhikode is reported to be meagre. Nafed last sold its consignment of copra for Rs.6,600 a quintal and Kerafed sources said that their procurement from Nafed for the current season appeared to be at its end. There appears to be no reason to believe that copra stocks in the State will now be replenished and the situation may improve only after a couple of months, said Ashok B. of Coma, a senior trader here. The rise in the price of products such as palm kernel oil and paraffin oil (white oil), traditionally used to adulterate coconut oil, has helped heat the market.


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