The severe drought that has gripped Karnataka might deprive many of the natural and refreshing thirst-quencher, tender coconut water this summer.
The supply in Asia’s biggest market for tender coconuts, located in Maddur, about 80 km southwest of Bengaluru, took a severe beating.
From a record high of about 7.5 lakh pieces sold on March 12 last year, sales plunged to 1.96 lakh pieces on March 12 this year. And there has not been a single day this year when the numbers have crossed 3.5 lakh.
“This is the lowest yield I have seen in the eight years I have been trading here,” says Naveed Iftequar, a trader at the Maddur market who sends truckloads to Maharashtra and Delhi, besides neighbouring areas.
“I haven't sent a single truck to Delhi this season,” he says, ruing that the prices of good produce have shot up, “to about Rs 25 a piece”.
“It costs Rs 9 per piece to transport coconuts from here to Delhi by truck, a journey that takes four days to complete. For traders there, anything above Rs 30 a piece is unreasonable.”
Iftequar also noted that the quality of the yield this time has gone down. “Coconuts that have scars are considered of lower quality and, hence, fetch a lower price,” he explained, adding that this year, most of the coconuts have scars, and have been rejected by clients in other states.
Chandrashekhar, another coconut trader, is in a bind. Farmers, from whom he buys coconuts, are demanding a high price—as much as Rs 15 per piece—despite their poor quality, while traders want a low price—around Rs 17.
“They do not understand that I have to bear the cost of labour (to pluck coconuts) and transport,” he complained.
The northeast monsoon over Karnataka was the worst in 45 years, according to the Karnataka State Natural Disaster Monitoring Centre.
“March is the peak season for tender coconut arrivals, which is why this is alarming,” said Nagesh N, assistant secretary of the Agricultural Produce Marketing Committee yard in Maddur.
Farmers’ Woes Mount
For farmers like Shivarama Shetty (60), tender coconuts have been a saviour during previous droughts as the harvest from about 25 trees lining his 1.5 acre sugarcane farm, helped raise money for petty expenditures every two months.
“This year, the sugarcane crop has already died. But the fall in coconut yield has hit me the hardest,” he said. “From about 2,000 coconuts that I used to get, only 250 could be plucked this month.”
Groundwater levels have also fallen in his area as a result of the drought. “The depth of water is about 350 feet, making it difficult for the trees to absorb water from the ground,” he said, adding that this has increased the dependence on borewells for irrigation.
Shetty says the next harvest in May is not likely to yield anything. Nagesh, though, is hopeful. “Coconuts need just a few days of good rains. If there are at least three days of heavy rains by the end of the month, there will be a good harvest in May. Hopefully, after that, the monsoons will not disappoint us this year,” he said.