A round table meeting of the Union Agriculture Minster, Finance Minister and the Agriculture / Horticulture Ministers of all coconut-growing states will be convened shortly to discuss an action plan for amending the neera rules and enabling neera production.
Neera or the coconut sap, is governed by a 112-year-old rule in the Abkari Act. The meeting could also discuss offering relief package to coconut farmers affected by natural calamities like erratic monsoon and severe drought, said Ananth Kumar, Union Minister of Chemicals and Fertilizers, in Bangalore.
He also asked all state governments to emulate the Kerala model where it has amended the sections of the Abkari Act, relevant to neera. He said, the production and processing of neera would make India the global leader in coconut processing and export also.
Neera, or the coconut sap, is the raw material for many value-added products like palm syrup, palm jaggery, palm sugar and other sweet and confectionary foods, which has high demand in domestic and international markets owing to their high nutritional value.
Neera production, he said, would also be a major employment generator where, citing a study in Kerala he added that some 1 million jobs would be generated even if just 10 per cent of the palms in the state are tapped. As of now neera technicians are being trained in Kerala, he said.
The meeting will discuss creating corporate structure in coconut sector with 50 per cent equity participation of the farmers, 25 per cent each by the state and the central governments respectively.
The minister has promised the farmers to consider the possibility of implementing the replanting and rejuvenation programme in Karnataka along with other coconut-growing states. Ananth Kumar said: “The policy of the present Union government is to make the country global leader in the production, processing and marketing of all horticulture crops.”
Till now, it’s mostly copra (dried coconut) that coconut is associated with. But, the Coconut Development Board (CDB) is also looking to increase incomes of the farmers. This is also a means keeping farmers from diverting their lands for other uses.
Value-addition is expected to not only increase the incomes of farmers manifold, but also reduce uncertainty of income for the farmers. It would also generate employment. The Coconut Development Board estimates that Kerala alone would need 1 million people with different specialisations if it can be put into force.
The restrictions placed by Abkari Act in the various states across the country has not helped matters. The restrictions on using the sap does not give the farmer the freedom to use the sap, when produced, for anything else.
Meanwhile, Rajeev Chawla, Principal Secretary, Horticulture, Govt of Karnataka, has promised to pursue with the state government permitting neera production.
He wished that like Maddur, the largest tender coconut market in the country, the state will become the leading producer of neera. Karnataka makes up for 26.7 per cent of the coconut production in the country.