Agri Business

Cashew industry leaning on migrant workers

G. K. Nair Kochi | Updated on February 25, 2011



Kerala's dependence on migrant workers in the agricultural, industrial and construction sectors is on the rise with workers mainly from West Bengal and Orissa filling up vacancies in the cashew industry following an acute shortage of hands.

Already the Rubber Board has resorted to a scheme to train workers from Orissa in rubber tapping. Now, a good number of rubber tappers are from outside the State. Even cardamom, pepper,coconut and cocoa growers are looking for outside labour for their estates, estate owners said.

“Twenty-five per cent of the workers in the cashew industry at present is from West Bengal. They are trained in cutting and deployed,” Mr Shahan Hassan Musaliar, Chairman, Cashew Export Promotion Council of India (CEPC) told Business Line. “They work for long hours and earn good wages and remit Rs 10,000 a month to their homes,” he said.

Educated youths in Kerala look for white collar jobs which are abundantly available in other sectors and that in turn is creating severe shortage of workers, he said.

In fact, the cashew industry, of late, has been exploring mechanisation to enhance labour efficiency and solve the problem of shortage in women workers. However, given the complex nature of the work involved, a full mechanisation does not seem to be practical and viable, he said.

Shortage of labour is felt only in the shelling section and that is mainly because a majority of the factories are still following the conventional method of roller roasting. If some sophistication is brought in, 90 per cent of the problem will be solved, said some of the processors.

Steam processing

An advanced method introduced in recent years in several factories is steam processing, under which the hard shells are softened and the kernel is extracted by cutting the shell using a manually operated mechanical system. Blades are adjusted in such a way that it does not touch the kernels. In this case, workers' daily output is higher at 12 to 13 kg, which means an increase of 20 to 25 per cent in their daily wages.

With this method, the capacity utilisation of the factory can be enhanced, an industry source said. He said that at present only 50 tonnes of raw nuts are processed in his unit daily for want of sufficient workers.

If mechanisation is introduced in the shelling segment, 75 tonnes of raw nuts can be processed daily, he said. Thus, the capacity utilisation could be increased and that in turn will enhance the output of the workers, and consequently their daily wages.

The industry can easily afford to purchase cutting machines, he said.

Most of the factories in Mangalore are operating on the semi-mechanised steam process; there too mechanisation has been introduced only in the “cutting/shelling” segment.

According to another processor, who represents a major processing factory in the outskirts of the cashew city of Kollam, mechanisation in the next two stages of processing: peeling and grading, does not seem to be necessary as there is no shortage of workers in these sectors. Besides, it is also not practical, he said.

According to Mr Anu S. Pillai, another major processor, peeling (removal of thin skin from the kernel) is done by skilled workers. Since it is done manually, damage to the kernel is much less. Mechanisation in this segment requires more research so as to achieve higher sophistication and to minimise broken kernels, he added.

Published on February 25, 2011

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