PANAJI: The coconut tree has been tapped for heady liquor, feni and water as an energizing health drink, but sourcing it additionally for ‘nira’ or converting it into sugar, healthy even for diabetics, promises to revolutionize coconut farming in Goa.

A few thousands of dwarf variety of coconut saplings have already been planted in some Goan farms. It is easy to understand why these trees have the potential to ring in a revolution in just over three years, as each tree can fetch the farmer 10,000 to 15,000 per annum, several times more than the traditional variety, sources said.

A delegation led by agriculture minister Ramesh Tawadkar, director of agriculture, Ulhas B Kakode, his predecessor, Orlando Rodrigues, other officials and a few farmers are just back from a trip to Kerala, enthused about the lucrative option for Goan farmers.

“A litre of sap (nira) drawn from the coconut tree fetches 125 per litre and the sugar 350 per kg in the market,” Ramesh Tawadkar, agriculture minister said.

The sap is drawn from the coconut tree’s flower buds by cutting the blossoms. This is a more profitable option instead of growing tender or mature coconuts. “The sap is collected in ice-cold containers to prevent it from turning sour,” a source said.

Central plants and central plantation crops research institute, (CPCRI) Kerala, has introduced the dwarf variety. The state government has already given 3,000 saplings to farmers to encourage replacement of the taller varieties with the hybrid one.

Plans are afoot to organize coconut farmers into village-level groups and form a state-level coconut producers society with farmers as share-holders. “The proposal is in the initial stages and a report is being prepared,” Tawadkar said.

The farmers are likely to gain, both from sale of their products individually and as its members. “If the sap is not sold, it can be converted into sugar the same way it is made from sugar cane,” an official said.

Coconut water, as a health drink, has spawned a huge industry in this tourism destination. Distilling feni, once a big traditional occupation, is slowly dying. But, tapping ‘sur’ or ‘nira’ or converting it into sugar has huge potential. “The sap is a health drink and it has a lot of minerals and nutritive value,” A R Desai, agricultural scientist, ICAR-CCARI, Old Goa said.

The coconut sugar has a low glycemic index of 36 compared to the higher one of table sugar and is good for diabetics. “The sugar from the sap can be taken as sugar-free and is good for diabetics,” an official said.

Source: , TNN