When launched, in 2014, coconut toddy Neera was ambitiously touted to fetch Rs 50,000 crore annual turnover to Kerala, through 29 private companies.
Even as Telangana is opening its account in the non-alcoholic sweet coconut toddy business, country’s largest coconut producer Kerala is out to cough up about Rs 18 crore to get its coconut toddy entrepreneurs out of the red. When launched, in 2014, coconut toddy Neera was ambitiously touted to fetch Rs 50,000 crore annual turnover to Kerala, through 29 private companies.
“We have floated a revival package for Neera through Kerala Financial Corporation (KFC),” Kerala finance minister VS Sunil Kumar told FE. KFC has agreed to write off the penal interest on loans by 11 Neera companies set up in 2014. “Soon, we will harness a convergence of various production/preservation technologies to revive production and bring back marketing under a common brand,” he said.
Court attachment procedures on the machinery of these firms have been put on hold after the package was announced. In the first phase, the support was only to five firms — in Palakkad, Thirur, Malappuram, Perambra and Kadathanad. The state government will subvent 2.5% of the companies’ interest burden to KFC. The companies will also get a 15-year breather in loan payback.
Poor marketing, wrong technology and inconsistent production volumes were the culprits rather than poor demand, observed stakeholders. Even Indian resorts currently import coconut toddy from Sri Lanka, Indonesia and Cambodia. In India, besides Kerala, Neera is produced and marketed in Maharashtra and Rajasthan. Telengana has entered the fray of late, planning a chain of Neera parlours.
Shajahan Kanjiravilayil, who runs Kaipuzha Neera Agency, said the first year’s turnover of Rs 3.6 crore from Neera plant fell to Rs 1.5 crore in the second year. “This was unsustainable as the Neera plant investment was as high as Rs 32 crore,” he says .
From 40,000 l per day in 2014, Kerala’s production of unleavened toddy from coconut flowers has fallen to less than 2,000 l in 2020. “During summer, Neera tapping is impractical. Since the production is haphazard, regular supply to the market has suffered,” says M Gopinathan , manager, Palakkad Coconut Producers Company.
In the initial stage, Union agriculture ministry’s coconut development board (CDB) had supported the Neera companies in Kerala, backing them with 25% subsidy. CDB had also roped in Neera technicians, including tappers and coconut pluckers. However, currently, the companies are facing acute skill shortage in the labour-intensive business. State government plans to fine-tune the technology, production and marketing of these companies, bringing them under a single umbrella Coconut Mission.