The drop in the business in State’s traditional cash crop of cashew is not restricted only to this season, but is being witnessed for the past three consecutive years, though the reasons for this drop vary.
This year’s drop in the production of cashew apples and nuts can be attributed to the weather conditions which were not favourable for the growth of this fruit. But those in the business are suffering losses for the last three years, beginning from 2020 when the pandemic hit. The crop went waste in 2020 due to the lockdown. In 2021 again, there was the pandemonium and the second deadly wave which stopped farmers from carrying out their regular activities in the absence of a labour force who quit for their hometowns. In 2022 the farmers thought of moving forward but then the crops failed due to bad weather.
Now who should be held responsible for the losses suffered by the farmers – pandemic, weather or the failure of the government in guiding the farmers in handling the situation tactfully, asks Hansel Vaz, founder of Kazulo Premium Feni. “These are difficult challenges and someone should count our losses,” he begs. The agriculture department, Forest department and ICAR should have intervened and guided the farmers on how to save their crop but none is accepting any accountability, alleges Hansel.
He questions ICAR’s role. ICAR has been giving grafts for the past few decades but has anyone looked into the results, whether they are weather resistant, Hansel wants to know. Why are there not better plants, he asks. Rain and fire are dumped on farmers as their problems which is disillusioning them. The State government is doing nothing to promote the cashew crop, on which the Union government earns so much revenue.
“Cashew fruit is not like mango that everyone wants to eat. So it is in the government’s interest to plant more trees and promote the propagation of cashew trees. The pre-liberation trees that our ancestors planted 100 years ago are still yielding fruits. These are two cash crops – nuts and apples. We should have a feni road map. ICAR promotes nuts and works on developing bigger nuts instead of producing juicy, healthy fruits. Tall trees with big canopy cover get saved in storm and fire, but the hybrid short varieties fall prey to these. If the cashew crop is not saved, it will go the coconut feni way,” worries Hansel whose various plantations registered losses between 50, 70 and even 90 %.
Feni has a unique floating price that depends upon demand and supply. It will bounce back. When the production is reduced and demand is increased, then the prices will go up. Logically, it should. But this year, though the production was low, the distillers sold fresh urrac instead of making feni out of it to sell at a higher price. “People are short sighted, so I feel the promotion of urrac needs to be reduced. When the prices were low, urrac was sold at Rs 200-250 a bottle. It’s crazy, sometimes the market works against logic,” adds Hansel.
As the secretary of GCFDBA (Goa Cashew Feni Distillers and Bottlers Association), Hansel underlines that he is against urrac as it is an unregulated drink. It is not a brand. Unregulated drinks are getting a lot more prominence than regulated drinks. There is no tax paid, no VAT collected on urrac.
"The future of feni seems to be crazy. We have to think ahead. We have to plant trees that can live for 100 years and can produce for that long, withstanding the onslaught of climatic changes for a century. I feel the government should pull up its socks, and start working towards cashew varieties that are resistant to climatic change, global warming and to whatever might come. And we have to do it quickly, without wasting even a year," he feels.
The farmers have to start planting new trees as old trees would die. Wherever there is vacant land, government or agricultural, it can be used for planned cashew plantation on a war footing. A proponent of importing cashew from outside States, Hansel feels that if we import cashew fruit from other States, there would be less wastage in those areas, as the fruit is a raw material source to Goa, so we should start importing it, and regularise the import of cashews. The government needs to create policy to safeguard this heritage drink, and regularise the imports from other States.