Already reeling under various issues, the cashew industry in Kerala is on the verge of a total collapse due to the ongoing lockdown.
The cashew industry has sought the immediate intervention of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, seeking help to export nuts to the US, Japan and the Middle East.
The Cashew Industry Protection Council (CIPC) in their letter to the Prime Minister has pointed out that of the 10,000 MT of cashew that Japan imports, Kerala’s share is around 8000 MT.
“We seek your immediate intervention to lift the export curbs. If we are not able to do it, then we will be losing these markets to other countries like China, Vietnam. Another issue on which we want your intervention is – Kerala is always dependent on raw cashew nuts from African countries like Ivory Coast and Ghana. Following the lockdown, the import of these nuts is not happening and if it does not happen, the industry will be wiped out, as investments have been made for procurement,” said the CIPC.
They also pointed out that in Kerala for the past four years, the industry has been having a hand to mouth existence and most of the companies here are going through tough times and are getting recovery notices from the banks.
“We seek a moratorium of one year for all the cashew companies which are in the red, if not, the industry will perish forever in Kerala,” pointed out the CIPC.
Kerala stands fifth in cashew production contributing 11.17 per cent of the total production of cashew in the country.
But figures tell the real tale as the cashew business in Kerala has reached an all time low when it saw the total cashew production fall from 35820 MT in 2009-10 to 15640 MT in 2018-19 and the area under cultivation dwindled from 48970 hectares to 38780 hectares during the same period, leaving Kerala cashew workers dependent on kernels from abroad.
On account of the coronavirus pandemic, the Kerala government has announced a temporary relief of Rs 1000 for each of the thousands of cashew workers besides free ration.
A farmer said that, during the peak time of cashew season there was lockdown and so for the initial few days he was not able to go to the cashew plantation and so collection of cashew nuts received a setback and the cashew apples also got spoiled. “It caused loss to us and now the rates for cashew nuts is low which is hitting us badly,” he said.
The local variety of a cashew tree gives on an average 3 kgs of nuts per season while the high yielding varieties gives around 10 kgs of nuts per season. Raw nuts which are collected are sold to wholesalers and traders. However the rates depend on the market demand and also the quality of nuts. The rates last year were around Rs 120 to Rs 140 per kg but this year there is a sudden drop in the rates.
About 56,700 hectares of land in the state is covered by cashews plantations. The area under cashew cultivation is not increasing significantly. However there is lot of scope for improvement of productivity or yield from the existing acreage under cashew crop. In some of the plantations on the hills the distances between two or more surrounding cashew trees is quite large. More trees could be accommodated in these areas and the density of the plants per hectare will increase which would increase the output without increasing the area under cultivation, it is learnt from the sources.
“This season the climate was normal and there was chill in the air in the beginning and so we were expecting good cashew yield. However the season turned out to be not as good as expected,” said Vaibhav Ghadi, a cashew farmer from Paliem, Pernem taluka,.
The cashew tree which was introduced in Goa by the Portuguese some five centuries back. Today it is a major commercial crop of the state and also the most successful crop. Goan cashews are very famous within India and also abroad. Cashew nuts grown and processed in the state enjoy a premium in the market vis-à-vis cashews grown elsewhere. Feni, an alcoholic beverage is another successful by-product of cashew cultivation. A heritage drink of Goa, Feni is distilled from the juice of the cashew apple. The production of Feni also took a hit in this 2020 season.
“Cashew fruits which are collected from the plantations are gathered into a Kolambi. A Kolambi is a natural rock having shape of a basin, selected for crushing cashew apples after separating the nuts. The Kolambi has a narrow channel to allow the juice to flow into a container. However nowadays some build artificial Kolambi and few even use machines for crushing,” said Nandkishore Nhanji, a cashew farmer.
This season plenty of cashew apples were available however many got spoiled as collection was affected during the first few days of lockdown. As the cashew apples are crushed the juice begins to flow into a container and once the crushing is over after around half hour pure juice trickles down from the Kolambi called as Niro.
There is good demand for Niro and people come even to the cashew plantations to buy Niro. During these days at many a places one can see Niro in the bottles kept for sale, mostly along roadside. The price of a bottle of Niro varies according to the place and it is priced at around Rs 100 to 200 for one litre bottle. The income the farmers used to get from selling Niro was lost this time as they could not sell it.
A farmer said, “These few days some of the cashew farmers also could not prepare Feni due to the lockdown. Every cashew apple is of not the same quality and the quality of the Feni depends on the cashew apples and from quite a distance one can smell Feni as it is being distilled, however preparing Feni is not an easy job and it requires hard work and expertise too and this Feni has good demand in the state market and both local and tourists buy Feni.”
During the summer season there are also incidents of fire in the cashew plantations, especially in the hilly area, which destroys cashew plants making loss to farmers.
A farmer said, “The Aagist (fire cover) which used to be common once upon a time is rarely seen in recent years. About three metres from the boundary of the cashew plants on the hill a grass patch of one to two metres is selected and by taking some grass at a time it is burnt and then extinguished, which creates a protective belt around the cashew plants hill and it is known as Aagist. It helps in keeping the fire away from the cashew plants, thus reducing the fire incidents.”
The production of the cashew nuts has more or less remained stagnant over the years. The productivity of the existing cashew farms has deteriorated due to soil erosion and non-application of nutrients. The agricultural department provides assistance in kind like neem cake, rock phosphate, gap filling of cashew grafts and also undertake staggered/ contours/ contour trenches for soil conservation.
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