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Cashew losing favour with farmers in Kerala

G.K. Nair

KOCHI, Oct. 16

THE area under cashewnut cultivation in Kerala has declined by 4.32 per cent while production has dropped by 5.25 per cent in recent years.

The decline in area is attributed to the pressure on land and the existing land ceiling laws and the continued denial of plantation status to cashew.

Besides, the lack of enthusiasm on the part of the implementing agencies, especially the State agriculture department, is said to be a reason for the decline.

On the other hand, Kerala has vast areas of senile cashew plantations which have not been replanted. As a result, the production has also dropped due to very low productivity per hectare, official sources told Business Line. The growth rate of area in all the cashew-growing States except Kerala has been positive and showed increasing trend.

"But for Kerala, the growth rate in area has been on the decline by 4.32 per cent per annum.''

Cashew production growth rates have been positive and significant for Andhra Pradesh (10.16 per cent), Karnataka (7.72 per cent), Tamil Nadu (12.84 per cent), West Bengal (12.56 per cent) and Maharashtra (24.95 per cent).

In the case of Goa and Kerala, there has been a decline of 5.36 per cent and 5.25 per cent respectively, the sources added.

Shift to more lucrative cash crops - mainly rubber - has brought down the area under cashew cultivation in Kerala.

Unlike rubber, cashew is not treated as a plantation crop.

If it were given plantation status, there would be farmers reverting or switching over to cashew given the unremunerative prices of late of natural rubber, according to a farmer who has shifted to cashew from rubber.

He said that the investment in raising a cashew plantation was comparatively much less while the return is remunerative.

In Kerala, because of the pressure on land, wasteland could be used for cashew planting, he added.

"But adequate support from the Government agencies is lacking.'' According to officials, the State plantation corporation has vast areas under cashew cultivation. The plants there are 30-40 years old and hence senile.

If they are replanted with high-yielding varieties, the production could be enhanced.

Besides, unlike in States like Maharashtra, there is a lackadaisical approach on the part of the Government.

Efforts to motivate the farmers to take up cashew cultivation are at a low key.

Meanwhile, extension services in the State are also not to the required levels, the sources said. The new plantation development and replantation programmes drawn up and monitored by the Directorate of Cashew and Cocoa Development and implemented by various State Governments have been reallocated as States activities from February 2001.

This has given flexibility in prioritising the State Governments' agriculture development activities.

"As a result of this change, the industry fears that cashew is not getting adequate priority in the hands of the State Governments,'' an industry source said. This aspect is being pointed out as one of the reasons for the poor performance of the crop in Kerala. According to the industry, since cashew is an export-oriented agricultural crop, it should be fully taken care of by a Central Government organisation.

"The industry is apprehensive that in view of the flexible nature of the new macro management system, cashew may not get the priority it deserves,'' the sources said.

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