On World Coconut Day, Kerala looks to Centre to improve yield

World Coconut Day is celebrated across the world on September 2. In India, it is Kerala — which is known as the ‘land of coconuts’ and derives its name from ‘Kera’ meaning coconut tree — which is now looking towards the Centre for more support to take the state to greater heights in coconut production.

Agriculture Minister V.S. Sunil Kumar, who also has a keen interest in agriculture especially coconuts, told IANS that things will speed up in this sector if the Centre extends its help with more coconut centric schemes.

“We got Rs 20 crore for the Kerala Agriculture University from the Centre to step up research on coconuts. Our government had planned to plant at least 2 crore seedlings by 2029 and of this 30 lakh are targeted to be produced by the end of the next calendar year,” said Kumar.

The coconut has been in existence for over 3,000 years and today it is an important horticultural crop cultivated in 17 states and three Union Territories across the country, making India the largest producer of the fruit, accounting for 31 per cent of the world production.

In the country, the total area under coconut cultivation is 20.96 lakh hectares of which Kerala alone accounts for 7.60 lakh hectares.

Kerala stands first in the production of coconuts (5,230 million nuts in the state as against 23,798 million in the rest of the country) but in terms of productivity it is at the fifth position.

“The need of the hour is to see how quickly we can get to the target of 2 crore new seedlings, because the area under coconut cultivation in Kerala is coming down due to low productivity. If we are able to cut down low yielding trees and in their place, plant new ones, then things can be better for the crop, farmers and the state,” said Kumar.

On its part, Kumar said his government has set the ball rolling to set up a Rs 100 crore Coconut Park at two centres in Kozhikode.

“With the corona pandemic striking hard, the work at these centres has taken a beating. To take coconut to new heights, we have decided to set up a trading centre and also a facilitation centre. Had it not been for Covid, it would have been ready to open. We are positive that we will be able to open it before the end of the term of our government,” added Kumar.

Kumar pointed out that his department has been able to set up around 350 Kera Gramam (Coconut Villages) and their target is to see that each and every one of the close to 1,000 local bodies in the state becomes a coconut village.

“The target is that each village should have a coconut plantation in 250 hectares and it’s a joint effort of the farmers. They engage in coconut farming using the most modern scientific principles. Setting up of value addition units of coconut should also take place,” added Kumar.

Kumar’s dream of value addition can become a reality as today every part of the coconut tree is used for one thing or the other. This includes coir from the husk of the coconut, the wood of the tree is used as timber, there is coconut oil and now activated carbon is being produced from coconut shells besides newer varieties of food items such as coconut milk, flavoured milk, butter, biscuits and the cool refreshing neera.

Researchers have also found that coconut flour is a rich source of dietary fibre, protein and low in digestible carbohydrates and is good for preventing cancer, heart ailments and diabetes. Another feature is that it is gluten free.

Kumar said the Centre, through its two Central units working for the improvement of the coconut — the Central Plantation Crop Research Institute which does research on coconut and the Coconut Development Board — can help in the overall development of the coconut.

The future of coconut appears bright as over the years it has played a significant role in poverty alleviation and employment generation besides providing a livelihood to 12 million families. Coconut products including coir bring in foreign exchange to the tune of around Rs 3,000 crore.