The idea was suggested by a cooperative bank in Kanamala in the Kottayam district to help thousands of tapioca farmers find a market.

An aerial view of tapioca farmer  Palakuzhiyil Prasad, who is standing in the middle of the farm holding a bunch of tapiocaJOMON PAMPAVALLEY
news Agriculture Monday, July 26, 2021 - 19:53

Onakka kappa or vattu kappa — tapioca dried under the sun — a dish that finds a place in most Malayali homes without fail, is now going to be a part of the monthly ration kit, doled out by the Kerala government. The idea was suggested by a cooperative bank in Kanamala near Erumeli of Kottayam district to help thousands of tapioca farmers who have been struggling to find a market amid the COVID-19 pandemic. In terms of crop income, tapioca is the third-largest in the state. As per agriculture statistics from 2020, tapioca is planted in 61,874 hectares of land across Kerala and brings an income of Rs 4086.22 crore every year. However, in the lockdown period following the pandemic, most of the tapioca farmers failed to find a proper market. The price of tapioca went down from Rs 25 per kg to between six and twelve rupees per kg.

The farmers’ situation prompted Kanamala Service Cooperative Bank President Binoy Mankanthanam to submit a demand to the government to include dried tapioca in the monthly kit for ration cardholders. The bank also submitted a memorandum to the Minister for Cooperation VN Vasavan. Following this, the cooperative society registrar sought a detailed report from the Kanamala bank on how to implement the project. On a trial basis, the government then decided to include half kg of dried tapioca in every kit from July.

Bank president Binoy Jose Mankanthanam tells TNM that if dried tapioca is included in the ration kit, it will provide a proper market and price to the farmers. "During the lockdown and the pandemic, many farmers, including the youth, engaged in tapioca farming. But now the farmers are struggling to find a market and many avoid harvesting. Distributing dried tapioca is a possible model to find a market for the product. In a personal talk, economist James Vadakan shared the idea with me and then we raised it in public.  We have already submitted a detailed report to the cooperative registrar on how to implement the project,” says Binoy.

"After the state government brought out a project to convert dry land to farmland (Tharishu nilam krisyidam aakal paddathi), our bank enabled tapioca farming in over 16 acres in Kanamala through farmers. But we could not find a market to sell the product. Most tapioca farmers faced the same situation. However, developing dried tapioca has proved to be a success before, and cooperative societies and banks can procure and process tapioca in their respective regions. The government can then procure the product from the societies and banks through the civil supplies department," Binoy adds.

Palakuzhiyil Prasad, a tapioca farmer in Mookanpetty near Pampavalley in Kottayam district, tells TNM that finding a proper market has been the major issue faced by topical farmers. "I have two acres of leased land and raised over 3,000 tapioca plants and it was ready for harvesting. I harvested less than a thousand of them and even then, no one is ready to procure the product. Due to the absence of a market, I provided hundreds of kilograms of tapioca to COVID-19 affected families in our region, free of cost."

Prasad adds, “If the government includes dried tapioca in ration kits, it will ensure a market for our product. The absence of a proper market and price for agricultural goods haunts many farmers like me.”

Fr Sebastian Kochupurakal, the general convener of the farmers’ movement High Range Samrakshana Samithi, says that the decision to include dried tapioca in ration kits will be helpful for farmers. "As per estimates, the special kit will reach over 84 lakh families in the state. When including one kg tapioca in each kit, over 84,000 kg of dried tapioca gets marketed. In the lockdown period, many people began to engage in farming. But if they don't get a proper market and price they will stop farming,” he said.

Sabu Joseph, another farmer in Idukki, says that he avoids tapioca harvesting on his farm due to the absence of a proper market. "I have over 1,500 tapioca plants and the vendors offer six rupees per kg. So I decided to avoid harvesting," Sabu says.

Earlier, Kanamala Bank implemented farming of kanthari mulaku (bird’s eye chilli) that could provide proper income to families in the region during the lockdown. During the first wave of COVID-19, when many people faced unemployment and poverty, farmers in Kanamala turned to kanthari mulaku farming for steady income. A year later, when another lockdown hit the state, farmers in the village were assured a proper income through kanthari mulaku farming.

The cooperative bank in Kanamala has been offering financial support for different kinds of farming. They are now also focusing on pothu (buffalo) farming, fish farming and honey production. Nearly 500 farmers now earn a sustainable income from this. The bank offers a fixed price and assured market for the farmers' produce. 

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