Q.1 Madam, could you please tell our readers about Coconut and why it holds such an important place in our lives?

Coconut is an auspicious fruit used all over India; be it for daily offerings in a temple or any special function like marriages etc. The botanical name of coconut is Cocos nucifera. Coconut palm is known as ‘Kalpavriksha’ or tree of life as every part of it is being used for one or another purpose. Water from immature coconut fruit of 7 to 8 months maturity is an energising drink. Milk extracted from the kernel or endosperm of a mature coconut, which is 10 to 11 months old is a delicacy. Dried coconut kernel, known as copra is used for extracting coconut oil which is used for edible purposes as well as in cosmetic industries. The key feature of coconut oil is lauric acid. After mother's milk, coconut oil is the richest source of lauric acid that has an important role in providing immunity. Coconut oil has antifungal and antiviral properties. The exocarp of coconut fruit known as the husk is used for extracting fibre that is coir.

Q.2 Could you please give us a broad understanding of the coconut industry and about interesting trends that you have observed over time in the coconut industry?

In India coconut is cultivated in 2.15 million hectares with an annual production of 21,200 million nuts. Coconut is cultivated in the Western and Eastern Coasts. Though it is cultivated in 18 States/Union Territories, nearly 90% of production is from the four Southern States – Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, and Andhra Pradesh. In the past few decades, coconut cultivation has expanded to many non-traditional areas. The productivity of coconuts increased from 6000 nuts/ha to 10,000 nuts/ha.

This is mainly due to improved varieties and the adoption of scientific cultivation practices.

India ranks first in coconut productivity and contributes more than 30% of world production. However, almost all coconut produced in the country is consumed domestically. More than half of the production is used for making copra and coconut oil. Fifteen percent is consumed as tender coconut utilization, for another value-added product is only less than 10%. The presence of India in the international trade of coconut is negligible at present except for coir products. In other words, the coconut sector has the potential for growth both in domestic as well as overseas trade.

Changes in coconut consumption are taking place across the globe. People are now considering coconut as a functional and nutritional food rather than an oilseed. On the industry side, large units for integrated processing of coconut are coming up. In India, we have few such large units capable of handling up to 4 lakh nuts a day.

Many coconut products such as desiccated coconut, coconut milk, virgin coconut oil, coconut water concentrates, and value addition of shell and fibre are made in such units.

Q.3 Could you please tell us about the support and facilities provided by ICAR - CPCRI to micro food processing enterprises engaged in coconut processing?

ICAR-CPCRI conducts a large number of training programmes for coconut value addition every year. The training is arranged according to the type and requirements of participants. To bring awareness to technologies, awareness camps are organized at different places. This year owing to the COVID-19 pandemic, we have adopted online programmes.

Entrepreneurship development programmes are conducted for those who desire to start coconut value addition ventures. The Institute has strong linkage with the Industries Department, MSME Development Institute, Coconut Development Board, Kudumbashree-the Poverty Alleviation Mission, etc. Trainees are thus benefitted to avail of the incentives and subsidies offered by these agencies. Another group of services we provide is under Agri-Business Incubation. The Kalpa Agri-Business Incubator of the Institute provides technologies, pilot-level processing facilities, and linking start-up entrepreneurs with credit agencies. More than 75 individuals and firms graduated from Kalpa Agri-business Incubator. The majority of them are in the coconut micro-food processing sector.

Q.4 Madam, could you please tell us about various micro enterprise level technologies of coconut processing that ICAR – CPCRI has developed for enhancing the livelihood of micro entrepreneurs and marginal farmers?

The novel coconut products developed by CPCRI are coconut chips, virgin coconut oil, kalparasa, and its value-added products, Coconut water-based products, trimmed tender coconut, and snowball tender coconut. In the case of virgin coconut oil or VCO, we have two protocols to obtain it from coconut milk: hot-processing and fermentation processing. The hot processed VCO is superior for more antioxidants and lauric acid. Our technology for collecting coconut inflorescence sap using a coconut sap chiller is unique as we obtain the sap with 0% alcohol. We registered it as a trademark as ‘Kalparasa’ to make it distinct from neera which will have some alcohol content. The value-added products from Kalparasa are palm sugar, jaggery, and sweets. Palm sugar has many advantages over white sugar. Chocolate, ice-cream, kheer, etc. can be made using palm sugar.

The Institute has several processing protocols in these areas and also provides tailor-made solutions to the entrepreneurs. Coconut chips are thinly sliced coconut kernels that are subjected to osmotic dehydration. Coconut chips from India are ranked one for quality and taste.

By-product utilization is important for increasing economic returns. The pulverized kernel after removing milk can be converted to an extruded product named ‘Kalpacrunch’. We have technologies for the value addition of coconut water to make vinegar, squash, jelly, etc.

Another micro-entrepreneur technology is the trimmed tender coconut. The gadgets required for making these products such as shell and test removing machines, milk extractor, VOC cooker, slicers, electrical dryer, etc. were also designed and developed indigenously. The Institute has obtained 8 patents in this area.

Q.5 Could you please tell us about the kind of branding and marketing support provided to micro enterprises and cite some success stories that have come about as a result of ICAR - CPCRI’s support?

Primarily we provide data and information to our licensees to promote their products. We also provide technology backstopping. All our licensees are entitled to indicate the source of technology in their product label, which is an authentication for the consumers. We support our licensees for marketing their products through various exhibitions and events conducted by the Institute. We also organize B to B and B to C meetings at different places. As you know, the Coconut Development Board has provision to provide financial support for advertisement and brand development. So we link our licensee with the Board for financial support in this regard. One of the brands we supported is MAGICCO. It was done under the National Agricultural Innovation Project. MAGICCO is mainly marketing coconut chips, and their annual turnover is Rs.1 lakh.

Q.6 Madam, as the PMFME scheme also focuses on reducing food wastage. Please suggest some ways by which one can turn coconut waste to wealth at the micro level.

Unlike in other crops, nothing is wasted in coconut. I already mentioned various products from coconut water and defatted coconut gratings. Coconut shells can be used for making charcoal and activated carbon. Pulverized shell powder can be used for making particle boards etc. There are many industries engaged in this area.

Coir pith is a by-product of fibre extraction units. CPCRI has developed an organic method of composting coir pith termed ‘Kalpa Soil Care’. This technology has commercialized 5 rural entrepreneurs. Another technology of this kind is ‘Kalpa Organic Gold’, which is the vermicomposting of coconut leaves.

Q.7 What are your views about the future of the coconut processing industry and the scope it has for an aspiring entrepreneur especially at the micro food processing level?

There are tremendous opportunities for micro-food processing units in our country. Coconut is used in one or another form everywhere in India. Many such products are produced and consumed very much locally. For instance, one family in Kasaragod is preparing a specially ground coconut having a shelf-life of over one year. In the Konkan region, the demand for fresh coconut milk is very high, and there is a ready market for it. There is an array of bakery and confectionary products specific to different regions. Ball copra, desiccated coconut, defatted coconut gratings, coconut milk, etc. are widely used for making many food products.

In West Bengal, few firms are providing sweets made of Kalparasa. What I feel is coconut micro-food processing units can be started anywhere in India – need not confined to southern states alone. They need not buy coconut but can use desiccated coconut, packaged coconut milk, coconut sugar, coconut chips, etc. to make products having a market in their respective location.

India has an advantage for the export of coconut chips and desiccated coconut for their high-quality standards. But micro-enterprises may find it difficult to achieve production of sufficient quantities for export. By formation of a cluster of micro-enterprises following common quality standards, they can very well attempt export. Various incentives from MSME can also be availed for this purpose.

Q.8 Madam, with the immense experience that you have gathered over the period in the food processing sector and having been closely associated with the PMFME Scheme, according to you, what are some of the areas that micro food processing enterprises need support with and how do you think the PMFME Scheme would be able to support micro food processing enterprises in those areas?

The immediate issue coming to my mind is the lack of awareness among entrepreneurs and researchers on packaging aspects. In all forums, this issue of non-attractive packaging of Indian products is raised. Not only attractive packaging, but the use of apt packaging material specific to the product is a concern. We have experience in this regard; it took more than 4 years to identify the best packaging material for coconut chips. Similar difficulties are faced by all micro-food sector enterprises. They generally get the advice from here and there and try their luck. More efforts on creating awareness on the packaging are required.

Another area that needs attention is the formation of a cluster of micro-food enterprises and ensuring uniform quality standards. At least one quality test laboratory should be made available in every district. Testing of nutrients and microbes in every batch of products is to be made to ensure the quality of products. For this purpose, we should bring testing laboratories near to the firm.

Many factors are affecting the quality of food. The most important factor is the quality of water. Bacterial contamination is a serious problem in our food sector. Continuous education programmes are thus required for entrepreneurs.

I feel a vibrant innovation system is required in the sector to stay globally competitive. With the vast research net-work we have in our country, the Ministry should take a lead role to form a consortium to create an innovative environment.

About Dr. Anitha Karun, Director, ICAR-CPCRI

Dr. Anitha Karun has more than 30 years of experience in the field of Horticulture-Biotechnology and contributed to the development of many tissue and organ culture protocols and cryopreservation protocols in palms and cocoa. She completed her professional degree courses B. Sc (Agri.), M. Sc (Agri.) in Horticulture, and Ph.D. (Horticulture) from the University of Agricultural Sciences, Bangalore. She started her career as Assistant Professor in Horticulture at Kerala Agriculture University in 1988 and was subsequently selected to Agricultural Research Service in 1990. She is working at ICAR-Central Plantation Crops Research Institute, Kasaragod since 1991 and was selected as Head, Division of Crop Improvement in 2012. She was appointed as Director (Acting) of ICAR-CPCRI from January 2019. She had undergone an international training programme on molecular biology at the University of Adelaide, South Australia in 1995. She has been awarded the ‘ICAR Award for Team Research’ for the biennium 1999-2000’ for her major contribution in germplasm exchange of coconut in the form of embryos for the first time in the world. She is also the recipient of The best arecanut scientist for the Biennium 2013-14 by Indian Society for plantation crops for the outstanding contribution in the field of arecanut biotechnology research. As a country expert in the field of embryo culture and cryopreservation, she had visited South Korea, the Philippines, Thailand, Sri Lanka, and El Salvador (Central America). She has published more than 225 research papers in leading national and international journals, 2 books and 21 book chapters, and three technical bulletins and has guided 6 Ph. D and 45 M.Sc students. Three of her technologies viz., arecanut tissue culture, coconut embryo culture, and cryopreservation of coconut pollen, have been commercialized.

(Content provided by ICAR-Central Plantation Crops Research Institute)

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed are those of the above guest and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Ministry of Food Processing Industries.