Kerala coconut farmers can now tap into Neera for extra income

Written by Rajesh Ravi | Kochi | Updated: Mar 4 2014, 11:29am hrs
Coconut farmers in Kerala can now look forward to earn additional income from their plantations as the state government has given sanction for production and distribution of Neera, a non-alcoholic sweet drink tapped from coconut trees.

Globally, Neera and its value-added products are manufactured by all the major coconut producing countries. The production of Neera was so far not legal in the state as the Abkari Act of Kerala (Act 10 of 1967) contains definitions that wrongly included the zero alcohol product into toddy and thus as liquor.

The board has been making recommendations to the state governments since 2005 to permit the production of Neera after realizing that its production will ensure better income for coconut farmers. "This development is the outcome of the concerted efforts of the departments of tax, excise and agriculture, Kerala Agricultural University, registered farmer producer organizations in the coconut sector and the board, Coconut Development Board (CDB) sources said. The technology for preservation and commercialization has been standardized. Neera is a sweet, oyster white-coloured sap tapped from the spathe of coconut. CDB reports that Neera is a delicious health drink and a rich source of sugars, minerals and vitamins. The most significant characteristic of the product is its low Glycemic Index (GI is 35), an indicator of the extent of sugar absorbed into the blood.

Kerala is the main coconut growing state with an area of 10.20 lakh hectares and production of 5,911 million nuts, followed by Tamil Nadu (3.20 lakh hectares and 3716 million nuts), Karnataka (2.87 lakh hectares and 1493 million nuts) and Andhra Pradesh (0.95 lakh hectares and 780 million nuts). These four southern states together account for 90.8 % of the total production in the country. Continuous supply of coconut oil from Tamil Nadu keeps the market under pressure as consumption at the household level is limited to Kerala and certain parts of southern Karnataka and Goa. Industrial users tend to substitute coconut oil with palm and palm kernel oil when the price difference is above Rs 10 per kg and the volatility has always been a bane for farmers.

CDB reports that Neera production in Kerala can contribute substantially to the Gross State Domestic Production (GSDP). Neera can kick start a whole lot of food processing industries too. The export potential of coconut palm sugar made of Neera from Kerala could be double that of the software export from the state. When 10% of the palms in the state are subject to tapping, the returns from Neera to the GSDP amounts to Rs 54,000 crore (market price of Neera is taken as Rs 100 per litre), CDB sources added.

Neera tapper can ideally tap around 15-20 palms per day. Based on this assumption, employment potential estimated is one lakh. Evidently this would be 10 lakh if we employ 10% of the total palms for Neera production, sources added.