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Konaseema, Andhra’s ‘Coconut country’, betting big on value-add to its nuts for progress & prosperity

Lakshmana Venkat Kuchi, Senior Journalist @kvlakshman Konaseema, the newly formed district of Andhra Pradesh, comprising islands and islets between the tributaries of River Godavari and the Bay of Bengal, presents a stark contrast to the traditional image of an Indian rural setting that readily comes to mind. A rich, fertile, prosperous, and progressive region of […]

Edited By : Prateek Gautam | Updated: Jul 22, 2022 13:40 IST
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Konaseema

Lakshmana Venkat Kuchi, Senior Journalist
@kvlakshman

Konaseema, the newly formed district of Andhra Pradesh, comprising islands and islets between the tributaries of River Godavari and the Bay of Bengal, presents a stark contrast to the traditional image of an Indian rural setting that readily comes to mind.

A rich, fertile, prosperous, and progressive region of Andhra Pradesh – also its rice bowl and sugarcane belt – also has a ‘hidden in the open’ treasure that is yet to be optimally mined, the Coconut.

As the first collector of the newly carved out Konaseema district, Himanshu Shukla, is both excited and anxious as to how to add value to an already highly valuable region that he dubs the ‘Coconut Country’. The region grows a humongous quantity of coconuts – 66 crore metric tons per annum.

“Konaseema is very non-typical of any rural area or any Indian district, and in that sense presents a very different challenge to any administrator – of how to add value to an already valuable entity,” Shukla told News24 in an exclusive interview. This administrator with a degree in engineering and master’s in economics and a stint of five years with an MNC in America, has had to think out of the box – to come up with an actionable plan to exploit Coconut and all that it has to offer.

Now, for maximizing revenue out of Coconut, for the government and for the farming community, Shukla is taking the import substitution route. The plan is to encourage processing and manufacture of two high-value bye-products of coconut – virgin coconut oil and activated carbon, that is also used in beauty face cream products.

Talking about the potential of active carbon, which sells at Rs 1000 per kilo, he said most of it is imported from southeast Asian countries like Korea, the cosmetic country of the world, Indonesia, and Thailand. Beauty products and cosmetic manufacturers in India import 99 percent of the country’s requirement, and hence this presents scope for import substitution, the economist in the collector asserted.

“We have raw coconut, but we are not processing it for extracting maximum value out of each coconut,” Shukla said.

Which is why, he has taken the help of the industries department of the central government under its Stand-Up India programme and has drawn up a plan to encourage MSMEs to set up activated carbon and virgin coconut oil processing plants.

“Each of the 14 mandals out of the total 22 in the district will have these processing plants and the process has started with identification of entrepreneurs,” Shukla said. The Farmer Producer Organizations (FPO) in each mandal would be strengthened and entrusted with processing units for virgin coconut oil used for cooking. These are the two products that are the highest value-added ones in the entire coconut chain of bye products — coconut milk, Flaks, powder, coir, and charcoal.

The other major initiative that Shukla has taken is to regulate and reform the coconut trade, with an objective of reducing operating costs and increasing the revenue of the farmer and provide benefit to the end user – customer.

The moment Shukla took charge last month, he got the entire valuation assessment done for the coconut, from the moment it is cropped to its journey to retailers through different stages – and found out ways to reduce the operational costs.

A coconut that fetches the farmer a mere Rs 5 apiece, gets sold to the customer for say up to as high as Rs 50 or even Rs 60 each, Shukla said and added his objective was to increase the money accrued to the farmer and decrease the cost to the customer – which can be done through increase in supply and reduction in transportation and operational costs.

Within the next two years, the collector has plans to increase coconut yield in the district to 80 crore metric ton to 90 crore metric ton, that will increase supply. For this, he said the challenge was to increase fertility and productivity of coconut plantations.

On the transportation side, Shukla has already begun to make arrangements with transporters to move the coconuts across the country through containers and by trains, which would be both cheaper and efficient.

Shukla is aware of the major issue that coconut farmers face, everywhere in India – shortage and unavailability of skilled labour for plucking coconuts from trees. Which is why, many now contemplate mechanized options. This would reduce costs also, Shukla added.

(Lakshmana Venkat Kuchi is a senior journalist tracking social, economic, and political issues and takes a keen interest in sports as well. He has worked with prominent news organisations.) 

First published on: Jul 22, 2022 01:40 PM IST

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