Farmers in despair as glut pushes down cassava price

O.S. Pratheesh, a successful paddy farmer, shifted to cassava (tapioca) cultivation a couple of years ago after he suffered huge losses in the deluge of 2018. Pratheesh, hailing from Muhamma in Alappuzha, reaped rich rewards from the tuberous roots in the initial days. Nowadays, he is disappointed as the returns on his investment are plummeting due to a price crash.

“There was a time when I used to get ₹24 for a kilogram of cassava. This time, I cultivated cassava on 25 acres of leased land in two districts. Recently, I was forced to sell the produce below ₹5, while Horticorp procured a few tonnes at a rate of ₹7 a kilo,” Pratheesh says. To avoid loss, farmers need to get at least ₹12 for a kilogram, he adds.

No spirit for now

Farmers say the price fell on a supply glut. While they partly blame Subhiksha Keralam, a government mission to ensure food security, for overproduction of cassava, along with other factors including a decline in exports, many feel the crisis is the result of a lack of cassava processing industries and facilities for value-addition in the State. The government’s move to make industrial spirit from tapioca seems to have met a premature death due to the high cost of production.

‘Tap the potential’

“A wide range of products can be made from cassava. Animal feed is one such. Tapioca starch is used in many industries. We are yet to tap the potential. We need to establish facilities for value-added products,” says Pratheesh.

The government last year fixed the base price of cassava at ₹12 a kilogram and farmers are eligible for this price for a maximum of 15 acres. However, not many farmers seem to have benefitted from it when the prices plunged, primarily due to a lack of awareness about registration and procurement mechanism. “When I contacted the Krishi Bhavan they promised to procure the produce from five acres. After waiting for a few days, I sold the produce to starch-processing units in Tamil Nadu for a nominal rate,” says V.M. Kurien, a cassava farmer from Nedumbassery.

‘Emulate Tamil Nadu’

G.S. Unnikrishnan Nair, a retired Additional Director of Agriculture, calls for better linkage between entrepreneurs and institutions like the Central Tuber Crops Research Institute for promoting value-added products. “When it comes to value-added products and industrial use, Tamil Nadu is showing the way. The technology is already available and it needs to be imparted to interested entrepreneurs,” says Mr. Unnikrishnan. He also called to increase the base price of tapioca to ₹15-₹20.

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Printable version | Dec 8, 2021 5:30:14 PM |

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