Kochi, Aug. 21
WITH the passing of a Bill by the Kerala Assembly to exempt cashew from the purview of land ceiling regulations would reverse the declining trend in area under the crop in the State.
The cashew processing industry in the state has been demanding that cashew be given plantation status like tea, coffee, rubber etc for the past five decades. In the absence of such a decision, the area under cashew had declined substantially over the years with the result that the State has lost its status as the top producer of raw cashew nuts in the country.
Today, Maharashtra is the leading State in area under the crop production, followed by Andhra Pradesh and Kerala. The decline in area in the State from 1980-81 to 2003-04 was to the tune of 52,832 ha, "a trend which this Bill will hopefully reverse," said Mr P Bharathan Pillai, Chairman, Cashew Export Promotion Council of India (CEPC).
He said that plantation status to cashew has been a 45-year old demand of the industry spread across States such as Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Goa and Orissa. "At present, only 50 per cent of the capacities of Indian cashew processing industry could be utilised if there is no import of raw nuts," he said.
Kerala can now contribute more to the supply of indigenous raw nuts, reducing the country's dependency on raw nut imports as this enactment by the Kerala Assembly unfetters it from the area-of-crop restrictions, he said. The other States would also take similar steps to encourage cashew cultivation, he said.
Raw cashew nuts production in the country is estimated at around 5.5 lakh tonne per annum and this needs to be at least doubled to meet the present processing needs of the industry, which earned about Rs 2,700 crore in 2004-05.
The current productivity of cashew in the country is about 700 kg a hectare, which is very low when compared with those of other cashew cultivating countries such as Vietnam. Therefore, steps have to be taken to increase the area under cultivation as well as the productivity to decrease the industry's dependence on imported raw nuts, he said.
The imports of raw nuts during 2004-05 stood at 5,78,884 tonne valued at Rs 2,183.26 crore as against 4,52,398 tonne worth Rs 1,400.93 crore in 2003-04.
In the absence of plantation status for cashew, the growers are reluctant to take up cashew cultivation in the State. Even senile plantations are not replanted. Cashew cultivation is lucrative as it could be grown even in areas where other cash crops cannot be grown. The inputs cost is also comparatively less.
The legislation will now motivate potential growers in the Malabar region, who were hitherto reluctant to take up cashew cultivation as plantations, Mr P P Balasubramanian, Director, Cashew and Cocoa Development under the Union Ministry of Agriculture told Business Line. He said that vast expanse of wastelands could also be taken up for developing as cashew plantations in the State.