Rising prices of tapioca (Cassava), Kerala’s farmer-friendly crop, in the range of around ₹40 per kg in the retail market has brought cheers to the farming community. But many of them are unable to derive full benefits due to poor yield.

Tapioca is being cultivated mainly under homestead farming in rain-fed conditions. The farming community attributed the price rise to intermittent rains that have led to a shortage. Many hotels have stopped serving tapioca dishes — a mouth-watering dish served in combination with fish curry.

Babu K Itteerah, a retired principal of a government higher secondary school in Irumpanam near Kochi who carries out its farming along with various other crops, cited inundation of cultivated lands as a reason for the crop loss, leading to the shortage of the commodity in the retail market. Besides, a majority of farmers had liquidated stock much ahead of the monsoon.

The higher prices, according to him, are expected to continue for some more time, at least until the end of the monsoon. He said in December last year farmers were forced to sell tapioca at ₹5 per kg due to a production glut.

Growers switch over

Mohammed Ashraf Manniyil, a farmer in Manjery in Malappuram, said there were several players in the sector when prices remained stable. But they later shifted to more lucrative crops like banana over land previously used for tapioca cultivation. This too seems to have led to a shortage in arrivals and the price increase.

Itteerah said labour shortage, hike in wages and rise in production cost due to the increase in fertiliser inputs are a concern. He has also taken up yam and banana cultivation and was happy to see the recent surge in the prices of these commodities.

MN Sheela, Director, ICAR-Central Tuber Crops Research Institute, said higher prices of cassava were because of lower production due to declining area, attack of wild animals, especially wild boar, and non-arrival of cassava tubers from Tamil Nadu and Karnataka.

In Kerala, tapioca is grown on 62,070 hectares. The State produces 25.92 lakh tonnes. Productivity is of 41.77 tonnes per hectare. The cost of cultivation for one hectare is estimated to be about ₹1.5-2 lakh.

As cassava is mainly used for edible purposes, she said the price varies from ₹5 to ₹30 per kg of tubers depending on demand and supply as well as consumer preferences. Cassava price was lower in 2021 (₹4-15 per kg of tuber).

Cassava has been identified for Thiruvananthapuram and Kollam under the ‘One District One Product’ scheme of the Centre, she said adding that value addition in cassava and cassava-based agribusiness is the focus area.

Cassava has been globally recognizsed as a potential candidate for bioethanol production with China and Thailand already using it in a big way. However, this prospect has remained largely unexplored in India, she said.