The economics implications of toddy trade

PALAKKAD, DEC. 27. The issue of toddy is becoming an acid test to the United Democratic Front (UDF) Government led by Mr. A.K. Antony. The UDF is a totally divided house and this issue may have far-reaching political consequences.

The main allegation is that the Antony Government, which is morally bound to clamp total prohibition, is now replacing the existing toddy co-operative societies and bringing back the abkaris into the toddy trade.

The issue has become both political and communal, but the economic consequences and the plight of poor coconut farmers and toddy tappers are being neglected. It also has a wide range of impact on the economy of the State.

Of course, much was talked about the moral concerns connected with the consumption of toddy. Since it is already a settled issue, its economic aspect has to be brought to the focus now. But till total prohibition is clamped on the State, the Government will have to address to the economic implications, feels a leading economist.

He says the Government has to see how the toddy policy affects lakhs of coconut farmers and the economy of the State. Kerala continues to be a `Kalpaka Vriksha' for the people, but the failure to diversify its product with more value addition has adversely affected the farmers and the coconut-based economy of the State.

For example, as per record in Palakkad district, the daily tapping of toddy is 1.5 lakh litre. The total number of coconut trees tapped is one lakh and each toddy tapper taps 10 coconut trees daily. It is from Palakkad, toddy is transported to areas like Thrissur, Ernakulam, Kottayam, Alappuzha, Kollam and Pathanamthitta.

The total toddy requirement of these places will come to a quantity many times more than the toddy tapped. So the question is how the total demand for toddy is met. Though Palakkad has tapping licence for one lakh trees, the original tapping number is far below this. Here comes the process of adulteration. What the toddy traders do is that they wanted only a little toddy to be added just for the smell of it and the rest is produced by (Anamayakki) a sort of deadly chemical added to toddy. As a result, the supply is many times more than the tapped toddy. This spurious toddy is sold as the original one from Chittur and other parts of Palakkad, it is alleged.

In Thiruvananthapuram district, only 2,000 coconut trees are tapped producing 3,000 litres of toddy per day. But the demand is many times more than this and the rest is met with the help of the spurious toddy.

Tapping is a bliss to the poor coconut farmers who are in very bad shape, mainly because of the import of edible oil, low price for coconut and the Mandari disease. A coconut farmer will get a minimum of Rs. 1,500 as rent for 10 months if a coconut tree is allowed to be tapped. As such, it is now a relief to the farmers.

In the farming sector as a result of the present agricultural recession, there is lack of employment. If tapping is allowed on a large scale, it will obviously create a lot of employment opportunities in villages.

If a tapper works on 20 trees a day (now only 10 as per rule), it will employ 5,000 tappers in Palakkad district itself. Almost the same will be the case in other districts also. The minimum assessment shows that in the State, it can give job to around 50,000 tappers which will go a long way in rural employment generation.

The coconut farmers feel that the Government should think of diversifying products from toddy like Neera, Jagri, Kerala Sudha and vinegar. Many countries like Sri Lanka and Thailand are doing so to rescue their coconut farmers. Now bottled toddy is sold in Kerala imported from Sri Lanka. Then why cannot Kerala do it the same here? the farmers ask.

Karanataka alone is earning Rs. 5,000 crores annually from Neera and such other coconut products. It shows that if we make a realistic approach to the problem, this sector could contribute significantly to the economic revitalisation of the State.

The marketing problem need not be a concern since we can safely bottle toddy and find outlets through Beer Parlours and foreign liquor shops under the Government. As we know, the biggest abkari in the State is the Government itself which has a Beverage Corporation with nearly 6,000 toddy shops, 425 bars, 62 beer parlours and 247 IMFL shops. These are definitely the places where we can find outlets for toddy also.

It shows that marketing is not a major problem. But what we have to ensure is that all the trees for which licence is given are tapped. So the main issue is not communal or the dismantling of the cooperatives in the field. Toddy trade is a good source of income which should not be arbitrarily left to the abkaris, experts in the field feel.

Artificial toddy threatens to deprive this toddy tapper his job. A toddy tapper in Palakkad climbing down a coconut tree with the tapped toddy.