It is not only tipplers but toddy tappers too are facing the brunt of the Covid-19 pandemic in Kerala. The lockdown in the second Covid wave has kept customers away from toddy shops, forcing tappers to dump in the open the brew extracted from coconut palms — for both want of customers and closure of toddy shops.
Around four lakh litres of toddy are being emptied to the ground on a daily basis, leaving 25,000-odd toddy workers in the State in a mess. The closing down of toddy outlets since April 26 has kept out customers too.
Kerala produces around five lakh litres of toddy tapped from an estimated 2,30,000 coconut trees. Chittoor Taluk in Palakkad is the main centre for toddy tapping from where the brew is moved to other parts, VK Ajith Babu, general secretary, Toddy Shop Licensee Association, said.
However, tappers are not in a position to stop extraction from palms. They have to keep to the schedule three times a day if only to ensure the health of the palms. Else, the inflorescence and subsequently the trunk would start to decay from toddy overflowing from the pots placed on top of the palm to collect the extracted brew, Ajith Babu told BusinessLine .
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It is easy for foreign liquor outlets to open for business the next day after shutdown is lifted. But not for toddy, which requires a long-drawn process to make the coconut tree ready for extraction. This can take at least six months. So tappers cannot keep away from work because of a lockdown, with pots remaining where they are, i.e. tree tops. The fact that Abkari Rules in Kerala prevent tappers from selling toddy directly to consumers has not helped matters either.
Supply spilling over
Rules stipulate that the licensee has to keep the toddy procured only for 48 hours, failing which it should be destroyed. Supply is more than demand in many outlets, thanks to the consumer shift towards Indian Made Foreign Liquor in recent times. Value addition of toddy along the lines of Goa, which produces Feni, is the only way to handle the surplus, Ajith Babu said.
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With around 4,500 toddy shops in Kerala, he put the estimated daily loss due to lockdown at about ₹2,000 for each shop that includes wages, licence fee, lease rent for trees, taxes, tools and maintenance cost, and building rent.
To tide over the crisis, the association urged the government to allow the shops to operate for six hours instead of 12 hours and sell toddy on a token basis.
P Indira Devi, former Director of Research, Kerala Agricultural University, said that the prospects of making use of the existing situation in favour of production of ‘Neera’ need to be explored. KAU as well as Central Plantation Crops Research Institute has standardised technologies for Neera (which is basically the inflorescence sap) and other value-added products and there are Farmer Producer Organisations with facility for Neera production.
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