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Fingers crossed over good yield

A firm estimate on the cashew crop for current season is eluding, but the nut retains its crispiness for growers, processors and consumers, discovers Shoma Patnaik

March is when the cashew harvest in Goa is at its peak. The air around plantations is heavy with the smell of cashew fruit and of Feni being brewed at the side. It is a busy time of the year with growers harvesting the fruit and transporting raw cashew nuts to the co-operative marketing societies.

This year the season looks like as if facing a lull. The arrivals are slow in the wholesale market and the supply is thin. It is unpredictable season, according to market watchers who are eagerly observing which way the season unfolds.

The prediction of crop estimates for the 2018 is ambivalent with some farmers expecting 20 per cent decrease in produce while there are others who are buoyant. But despite the uncertainty, farmers are not complaining.

The season is opened on a high note with cashews fetching Rs 160 per kg in the market. It is a lucrative price that makes cultivation viable, according to farmers.

The feeling among cashew processors is also not too bad either. In mid-February processors were gloomy as they anticipated lower produce and shortage of raw material. Currently the mood is slightly uplifted as things look like picking up.

According to Madhav Sahakari, president, Goa Cashew Processors Association, “the crop does not look as good as last year but it could make a turnaround.” Sahakari explains, “The previous season also started slow but later on the produce increased to bumper harvest of 25,000 tons in 2016-17.”

Exporter-processor, AS Kamath is slightly more upbeat. “The crop is delayed but it could transform into bumper depending on the weather,” he says. According to Kamath, “The cashew fruit is still at ripening stage and a delayed monsoon could translate into a bumper crop if not normal.” Kamath says that it is too early to write-off the season as “poor” because climatic conditions are not adverse.

Meanwhile, the feeling among cashew store owners remains as cheerful as always. Cashews are the most purchased items by tourists, says a Panjim store owner, who reveals that returns are handsome in the cashew trade.

As the foremost horticulture crop of Goa and looking at the thriving market for it, one would expect cultivation of cashews to be always on the uptrend. But in reality the production is static. The area under cultivation is stagnant at 55,000 hectares and the produce is stuck at 24,000- 25,000 tons annually. Within this trend of stagnancy there are bleak periods when because of bad weather the crop is a failure.

Check out with stakeholders reveals that the outlook on cashews is not promising because of a number of reasons. Sahakari says that, there are no new farmers coming in and the sector is pulled by old hands like him. “The fundamental problems with cashews is its low production caused by non availability of labour, cultivation dependent on the weather, extensive mining and declining forest plantations,” he says.

About 50 per cent of the production still occurs from forest plantations where cultivation is rain-fed with no modern practices making Goa one of the lowest productivity states in India, according to officials from the agriculture department.

The downstream cashew industry in Goa comprises of about 45 processing units most of which are small and disorganized. There are only two local cashew exporting units, although Goan nuts have a good reputation. “The local market is strong and growing consumption means that processors find it easier to sell locally instead of exporting,” says Kamath. He divulges that, Goa is self sufficient in cashews and sources about 10-15 per cent of the demand from imports from other states or from the international market. Kamath warns that, the local processing industry has shrunk with few units closing down over the years as owners switched to tourism or other trade.

In September 2017, the state played host to a global cashew summit, a prestigious annual event attended by leading stakeholders such as the members of the Cashew Export Promotion Council of India, policy makers, growers and processors from major cultivating states.

The summit focused on increasing cashew output and modernization and automation in the processing industry. With Goa contributing to only 25,000 tons of nuts annually as compared to India’s overall production of 5,50,000 tons, it was pointed out that the state contribution is too little to make an impact at the national level.

It is an unfortunate scenario because Goa has a historical connect with cashews. The state was the first to grow the fruit brought by the Portuguese and the front advantage resulted in local nut being acknowledged as the tastiest in the country. Goan cashews are a brand by themselves and tourists buy it gustily. The mushrooming cashew shops do brisk business due to robust purchases by tourists.

Various road-maps have been drawn by the government and also by research institutions such as the ICAR to increase cashew production and yield. But sadly not much has come out of it.  Recently, NABARD in January 2018 prepared an Area Development Scheme (ADS) 2018-19 for the crop aimed at overcoming problems faced in cultivation. The ADS suggested that, since cashew in Goa is by default organic, the government should facilitate organic accreditation and marketing. The study revealed that, cashew is an important crop but its production and productivity is coming down due to reduction in cropped area and lack of scientific management. Replanting would help in vertical expansion of cultivation and sustain production, said NABARD.

The study findings showed that, the cashew crop despite occupying more than 50 per cent of the area under horticulture crop, suffers from productivity that is lower than the national average. Most of the plantations are old, senile and there is an urgent need to rejuvenation by replacement of the plantation by high yielding varieties, pointed out the study. It concluded with the suggestion that, since cashew has the potential to earn foreign exchange it should be promoted as a commercial plantation crop. The ADS study said that, varieties developed by ICAR such as Goa 1 (Balli 2), Vengurla 4, Vengurla 7, Vengurla 8 and Bhaskara (Goa 11/6) are suitable for the state.

The agriculture department has several schemes to boost agricultural production, but for cashew cultivators the relevant scheme is on organic manure. In order to increase productivity of cashews, organic manure is provided to farmers under the scheme. It is also proposed to provide assistance of 50 per cent for use of any organic inputs by farmers. This would reduce the use of chemical (inorganic) fertilizers and pesticides and a step towards conversion of agricultural fields into organic farms.

Further a scheme that provides subsidy for digging wells wherein 75 per cent of subsidy for digging and construction subject to maximum standard cost is provided to farmers. .

Goan cashews have the potential to earn foreign exchange and it is essential that exports be increased by  encouraging processors to modernize and cater to the international market.

A few days from now, April 6-9, The Spirit of Goa, a three-day festival revolving around cashew and coconut will be held. Hosted by the GTDC, the event will showcase the goodness of local cashews and its cherished derivate, viz. the traditional liquor Feni made out of the cashew apple juice. The festival is a welcome initiative to draw attention to cashews, but what is needed are permanent and hardcore measures for boosting the nut.

Everybody recognizes the delicious taste of Goan cashews. “The goodwill that local cashews enjoy is a competitive advantage that must not be wasted and needs to be cashed upon,” say agronomists.

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