By Ashraf Padanna/Kochi
The Kerala government has launched Neera, a sweet, non-alcoholic sap tapped from the coconut tree, and its value-added products that are expected to help hundreds of thousands of farmers in the state.
Chief Minister Oommen Chandy officially launched the product and distributed tapping licences at a function held in Kottayam yesterday.
It is being marketed as an energy drink, rich in sugars, minerals and vitamins, with a low glycemic index of 35. The state hopes to launch the product in the international market as a diabetes-friendly food. It is also claimed to be good for digestion which facilitates clear urination and prevents jaundice.
Neera is the raw material for many value-added products such as palm syrup, palm jaggery and palm sugar having high domestic and international demand owing to high nutritional values, according to the state’s Coconut Development Board (CDB).
The crisis-ridden coconut farming sector has recently been showing signs of recovery due to increased demand for value-added products from the Gulf. The prices reached Rs36 a kg last week.
Minister K Babu said the state could earn Rs540bn if 10% of its coconut trees were allowed to be tapped, which had earlier been restricted to production of fermented drink.
A coconut palm yields on average two litres of neera daily, which may go up to 4.5 to 5 litres based on the health of the tree, and each litre of neera produced could fetch Rs100.
There are an estimated 150mn coconut trees in the state.
The state government allotted Rs54mn to the Kerala Agricultural University, which developed the processing technology, and set up three units in Thiruvananthapurm, Thrissur and Kasargode.
Farmers, who are now mostly dependent on coconut oil and copra for their living, can earn up to Rs1,500 from a palm a month with neera.
Besides the university, the government has given sanction for extracting neera to the CDB, the Kerala State Beverages Corporation, co-operatives of coconut farmers, jaggery producers and Kerala Agro-Industries Corporation.
“If fully tapped, the state government would get an additional revenue of Rs40bn in taxes every year and the sector would create 100,000 additional jobs,” the minister said. “It can be marketed as the state’s unique drink providing a lot of health benefits.”
With 4.2mn families depending on coconut for their livelihood in the state, the promotion of Neera is seen as essential for the survival of the crop, and the farmers received the news with cheers.
The new initiative will result in ensuring coconut farmers a better income, diversifying into various value-added products with health attributes and generation of rural employment and rural income.
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