India produces close to 15.8 billion nuts of coconut and is among the top coconut growers in the world apart from Indonesia, the Philippines, Malaysia, Sri Lanka and Brazil. India has a distinct advantage in coconut cultivation because of its long coastline (6,700 km) and tropical climate.
Copra is the dried meat, or kernel, of the coconut. The name derives from khopra, the Hindi word for coconut. Copra is the commercial form of coconut. India is the largest producer of copra accounting for a little over a quarter of global output. Copra is the main product of coconut. India produces about 6.5 lakh tonnes of copra (contains 65 per cent oil) and 4.3 lakh tonnes of coconut oil.
In spite of such natural advantage, Indian market for coconut and its derivatives is not so well integrated with the global market because of tariff and other barriers. With their long coastline, four southern States Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh account for nearly 90 per cent of the country's coconut production and provide employment to nearly ten million growers and others in the processing sector.
Until recently, coconut oil prices in India were almost double the international price, because of high import tariff and protection to domestic producers. In other words, Indian consumers were denied access to coconut oil at global prices.
Liberal import policy for vegetable oil (zero duty on crude and 7.5 per cent duty on refined oil) has meant a substantial flow of palm oil and palm kernel oil (akin to coconut oil) which has softened domestic coconut oil prices.
To support growers, the Government announces minimum support price for copra. National Agricultural Cooperative Marketing Federation is the designated agency to undertake copra price support operations. Coconut and its derivatives have wide edible and industrial uses. Coconut oil is used as cooking medium as also for industrial purpose such as soap making. It is used in ayurvedic preparations too. To offset the price impact of imported palm oil, restriction on coconut oil export should be relaxed.
For its characteristic flavour, there is a demand for Indian coconut oil, especially among expatriate Indians. Although coconut trees have long life-cycle, they need to rest and rejuvenate. Input management is important. An effective replanting programme for senile trees will help.
The Kochi-based Coconut Development Board has chalked out a plan for replanting of crop and expansion of cultivation in non-traditional areas. The Coir Board promotes coir and related products. All parts such as coconut water, shell, wood, leaves and coir pith have commercial value. Coconut cake and coconut toddy are important derivatives in addition to the shell-based and wood-based products.
However, the price of coconut oil seems to dictate coconut-based activities. The country's natural endowments need to be leveraged better for improving production and productivity of coconut and its derivatives.