Even as thin price realisation from natural rubber (NR) has been making rubber plantations abandoned, cocoa is slowly turning sweeter to Kerala farmer. In tune with soil composition, topography and climate, cocoa from Kerala enjoys a certain quality advantage, claim farmers.
Evidencing the latest trend in crop migration, the acreage under cocoa in Kerala is up by 50% in the last five years. While the area under cocoa cultivation in Kerala was about 11,044 hectares in 2010-2011, it has spread out to 15,894 hectares in 2016-17, according to the statistics culled by Directorate of Cashewnut and Cocoa Development.
“The best part is that cocoa is not as labour-intensive as rubber,” Bijumon Kurian, who heads Plantrich Agritech Pvt Ltd, told FE. In a state, where farm labour is at large and wage costs high, the low manpower usage is a key determinant in cropping pattern. A farmer co-operative under Plantrich Agritech produces about 6,500 MT of cocoa every year.
Secondly, it is not too capital intensive. Thirdly, the returns come early, compared to rubber. While the rubber takes about eight years to start yielding, cocoa begins yielding after 18 months of planting. It also yields round the year.
Andhra Pradesh, Kerala and Karnataka are the country’s top cocoa-producing states, in that order. According to the farmers, the cocoa from Idukky district (Kerala) enjoys a distinct taste advantage after post-harvest processing, as the acidity content in Kerala cocoa is medium, compared to high acidity content in those from Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh.
“Buoyed by the 4,000 hectares increase in acreage under cocoa, Kerala government has initiated incentives to bring another 1,000 hectares under cocoa this year. It has also brought the project of “Cocoa Village” under Rastriya Krishi Vikas Yojana,” says B Suma, head, Cocoa Research Station, Kerala Agricultural University.
However, a section of the farmers are worried about taking the cocoa cultivation plunge, with the collective memory of burning their fingers with cocoa farming in 1990s. Two decades ago, because of price vagaries, the cocoa farmers of Idukky were unable to sell their crop. There were only one or two chocolate manufacturers at that time and the cocoa market was controlled by them. With the proliferation of chocolate manufacturing firms, this monopolist situation has changed.
The size of India’s chocolate confectionery market is approximately Rs 12,000 crore, according to the market research outfit Euromonitor International.