Kerala's new Agriculture Minister P. Prasad is putting up a brave face as his efforts to take the state's coconut - and its farmers - to new heights has not happened at the pace at which he wanted, due to the Covid pandemic.
In a chat with IANS on the occasion of the World Coconut Day on Thursday, the 52-year-old first-time legislator Prasad said had it not been for the second round of lockdown, things could have gathered pace in the initiative.
"Our main programme of providing for new coconut seedlings did not go to the extent we had planned due to the lockdown as transportation was an issue. We had planned distribution of 15 lakh seedlings and with the restrictions now eased, we expect we will be able to meet our target," said Prasad, who is also known as the "green legislator", for his passionate love of the environment.
Coconut is an important horticultural crop cultivated in 17 states and three Union Territories in the country, making India the largest producer of coconuts, accounting for 31 per cent of the total.
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 on top in production (5,230 million nuts out of 23,798 million) but in terms of productivity, it is at fifth place.
Prasad's main target is to increase the productivity of coconut and it's here he is in a hurry to distribute new seedlings as the target fixed by the first Pinarayi Vijayan government is to see that 2 crore seedlings are ready by 2029.
The minister also pointed out he is working on schemes to speed up the value addition programme for coconuts as that is what is going to bring cheer to the coconut farmers.
"We have two coconut parks that are coming up at Kozhikode and it is there here that the units which will do value addition of coconuts will be set up. Just look at China and the numerous products that are there from coconuts. Our people are there all over the world and if we bring out coconut-based products, market is not an issue," he added.
"Today the stage is such that there is immense scope for value addition as today every part of the coconut tree is used for one thing or the other and the path forward that has already brought in rewards is value addition to each of these products, which includes coir from the husk of the coconut, the wood of the tree for timber, not to mention coconut oil and now activated carbon being produced from coconut shells besides newer varieties of food items which include coconut milk, flavoured milk, butter, biscuits, and the cool refreshing 'neera'," Prasad said.
Coconut flour is a rich source of dietary fibre, and protein, and is low in digestible carbohydrates, making it good for preventing cancer, heart ailments, and diabetes. Another advantage is that this is gluten free.
Prasad also said that the programme of setting up 'Kera Gramam' (coconut villages) is going forward and this year so far, they have been able to set up 84 villages and their target is to see each and every of the close to 1000 local bodies in the state becomes a coconut village.
"We are confident of putting things in place to take coconut to newer heights as for any Keralite, coconut is an integral part of their life... for many the day begins by putting a few drops of coconut oil on the head just before the bath. Such is the link that Keralite has with coconut and that is what is my strength in taking forward the plans for coconut," he said.