13/11/2007 (Statesman News Service), Thairuvananthapuram - Kerala agriculture minister Mr Mullakkara Ratnakaran is in New Delhi to convince Mr Sharad Pawar, Union agriculture minister, that a ban on palm oil import through the ports of south India is in the coconut farmers’ best interest.
Today, an entourage of farmers led by Karshaka Congress leader Mr Lal Varghese and Congress deputy leader Mr G Karthikeyan showed their disapproval by breaking hundreds of coconuts in front of the Secretariat here.
Mr Thomas Mathew, chief coconut officer of the Coconut Development Board, believes that import of cheap edible oil must be checked. “It’s one way of preventing farmer suicides,” he said. According to a time series analysis, coconut prices have been plummeting post-globalisation.
“I remember a time when the coconut farmer had enough money to spend during Onam. Now, he faces poverty all-year round. In April, 2005 the wholesale price of one quintal of coconut was Rs 7,200. Today, it is priced at Rs 4,750.”
The price of coconut is integrated with the price of coconut oil. This was established in a two-year study conducted by CommodityIndia.com. The study also revealed that the import of palm oil would have a direct impact on the price of coconut oil in the domestic market. “Citing the study’s findings, the CDB sent a proposal to the Union commerce ministry, asking it to ban palm oil import at all southern ports in a phased manner, starting with Kochi,” Mr Mathew said.
India is one of the largest importers of edible oil in the world, with almost 35 lakh tons of palm oil, from Malaysia and Indonesia. In 1991, the import of palm oil was 1,91,717 tons, which formed 2.48 per cent of the total exports of Malayasia. The trend continued in 2000, when India imported five lakh tons consisting of 25.4 per cent of Malaysian exports.
Besides the obvious, palm oil import would also weaken the forward and backward links in India’s coconut plantation sector.
The coir industry employs more than 5 lakh women in Kerala and there are at least 2,500 oil mills providing stable employment to six to seven workers. “Of the five million coconut holdings in India, 3.5 are in Kerala, of which private coconut holdings are less than .2 hectares. The coconut gardens of Kerala may go into neglect. The time to save it is now,” Mr Mathew said.
On Monday, the CDB filed a petition before the High Court, seeking to implead itself as a respondent in a writ petition challenging the ban on import of palm oil through the Kochi port.