Coconut Development Council constituted

THIRUVANANTHAPURAM, JULY 20. The Government has formed a Coconut Development Council in the State to ensure that the farmers, not the middlemen, got the benefit of minimum price fixed by the Government for copra.

The Agriculture Minister, Mr. Krishnan Kaniyamparambil, will be the chairman of the council and the Secretary (Agriculture) its member secretary.

The Agriculture Minister told presspersons here on Thursday that the Committee had been entrusted with the task of drawing up a report on setting up coconut processing facilities in the State with the participation of farmers.

The Council would also study the possibilities for diversified use of coconut and measures to increase consumption of coconut and coconut oil. It would also plan campaigns to increase the consumption of coconut and look into the modus operandi of market lobbies which bring down the prices of coconut and copra.

The Minister said that a sub-committee of the Council, headed by the former chairman of the Coconut Development Board, Dr. Aravindakshan, would work on the report. The overall objective was the processing of at least 50 per cent of the copra produced in Kerala within the State. He said that copra processing units would be set up in 150 blocks this year itself at a cost of Rs. 18 crores.

He said the Government had written to the Centre expressing concern over reports about stoppage of copra procurement by the National Agricultural and Marketing Federation of India (NAFED). The Centre had been urged that sufficient funds should be provided to NAFED, if lack of funds led to the discontinuation of the procurement.

He said that there was no shortage of space in the State Government's godowns for storing copra. Space was available for storing 7,000 metric tonnes of copra in addition to the 44,808 tonnes procured so far. The Government had also demanded that the procured copra should not be sold within the State. It should be milled and the coconut oil sold outside the State. It also wanted the Centre to increase the import duty on coconut oil. The crash in prices was the result of imports.

He said production of coconuts had gone up by 1,500 million nuts in 1998-99. In the last four years, Rs. 91.6 crores had been spent for coconut development.

The Minister claimed that the productivity of rice (State average) had gone up from 2,061 kg a hectare in 1997-98 to 3,167 kg a hectare in 1998-99. Asked whether the figures indicated an increase in productivity in real terms, Mr. Kaniyamparambil said productivity had improved on account of use of high-yielding varieties. The increase in average productivity could also be on account of discontinuation of cultivation in areas with low productivity.

Mr. Kaniyamparambil said that the Onam markets would be organised by the Department from September 6 to 9 in view of the increase in prices of vegetables experienced during the festival season. Altogether 141 markets would be run in different parts of the State. The State Horticulture Development Corporation, Kerafed, Kerala Horticulture Development Project and the Agro Industries Corporation would be participating in this effort. The vegetables for these markets would be purchased from the Harita markets. Only items not available in the State would be brought from outside.