Agri Business

Drought shrinks coconut output in South India

K Sajeev Kumar Vishwanath Kulkarni L N Revathy Kochi | Updated on January 13, 2018

coconut-drought   -  BusinessLine

Scarcity triggers price rise

Even as the drought in Karnataka and Tamil Nadu is seen impacting coconut production, in Kerala, rapid urbanisation is bringing down the area under cultivation and also contributing to the decline in output along with the monsoon deficit. This has resulted in a firming trend in raw coconut prices in recent months.

Water stress triggered by the poor monsoon in the key growing areas of Southern Karnataka and the Pollachi region of Tamil Nadu has impacted coconut production, with growers putting the output loss as high as 30-40 per cent.

A senior official at the Coconut Development Board said the drought in various parts of South India will be a major contributing factor influencing productivity in the 2017-18 season. There are possibilities of palm losses with both the South-West and North-East monsoons being below normal last year. It could take some time to assess production losses as the concurrent estimation for productivity in 2016-17 in major coconut growing States is in progress. The preliminary indication will be available only by the end of this month, he added.

Urban advance

In Kerala, increasing urbanisation has affected coconut cultivation, shrinking the area under the crop. “The scientific management of palms is the only available option to enhance productivity. The yield per palm in Kerala is around 45-50 nuts from a tree, which is very low compared to other South Indian states,” the Board official said.

Productivity fall

In fact, Kerala’s coconut productivity was just half that in Tamil Nadu, at 7,535 nuts per hectare, against 14,873.

Andhra Pradesh is in the second position with 13,808 nuts per hectare, followed by Karnataka with 9,982 nuts.

Palakkad, which contributes around 12-14 per cent of Kerala's coconut production of 500 crore nuts, has already witnessing a drastic drop in production due to the drought. Vinod Kumar, CEO, Palakkad Coconut Producer Company Ltd, said the shortfall in rains has affected inflorescence, which normally takes 12 months, on palms this season.

Apart from this, buckling of bunches from trees is also affecting the crop, which will lead to a further production loss. According to Kumar, there was a 20 per cent drop in production in 2004 due to drought in Palakkad and the sector is anticipating a similar situation this season.

In Karnataka, production has taken a hit in the key growing districts of Tumkur, Chitradurga, Hassan, Chikmagalur and Mandya on account of water stress. “We expect output to be lower by 30-40 per cent this year,” said Anekatte Vishwanath, CEO of Namma Tengu Coconut Producers Company in Tumkur.

Prices rise

The decline in output has resulted in prices firming up by 10-15 per cent in the past three months. “Raw nut prices have increased by about ₹3,000 a tonne over the past three months to around ₹31,000 now,” said Nagesh Poojari, a large buyer and manufacturer of desiccated coconut powder.

“We are finding it difficult to source an adequate quantity of raw nuts,” Poojari said, while stating that prices of finished products have not moved up in tandem with the raw material prices as the demand for desiccated coconut powder is rather subdued.

Pollachi’s pain

The acute drought has impacted coconut farms in Tamil Nadu’s Pollachi region. Farmers say that they have received less than 20 per cent of normal rain this year compared to the last.

“Borewells have gone completely dry. Today, we are not in a position to water the trees. Earlier, even if the sump went dry, we used to buy lorryloads of water to keep the trees alive. Now, with water becoming very scarce, the tanker supply is not regular,” bemoaned Prakash, a farmer at Arthanaripalayam near Pollachi.

Most of the 60-odd trees in his farm are over 70 years old. “We have already started feeling the pinch. The trees may not survive if the rain god fails to show sympathy on us.

“The annual yield has fallen by more than half from 15,000 nuts last year to just about 6,000 nuts this year and the weight of the nut has taken a beating from 550 grams to 350 grams.”

Prakash attributes the yield drop and weight reduction to low water availability.

A tree, on average, requires 100 litres of water a day. But we are unable to water even 30-40 litres a day, say farmers in that belt. They add that they have not benefited from the rising price of the nut. Traders offer only ₹6-8 per nut at the farm gate, said Selva, another farmer.

Meanwhile Tamil Nadu Agriculture Department sources say that there is good retail demand for coconut seedlings.

Published on March 09, 2017

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