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  • Tamil Nadu’s cashew capital 04/18/2022

    Apr 18th, 2022

    On a hot summer day, cashew orchards in Panruti near Cuddalore are buzzing with life as farmers are busy plucking ripe cashew apples from trees during the peak season that begins in mid-April. A.K.S. Kulandaivelu, a farmer of Mambattu village near Panruti, is hopeful of a bountiful harvest this year. The flowering of cashew trees has been satisfactory, and the harvesting has commenced. “The season has commenced, and we will be plucking cashew apples over the next two months. The flowering has been good and we hope for a good season. However, unseasonal rain is a cause for concern as they may spoil the harvest,” he says. The fruits are crushed, and the harvest is sun-dried at home by farmers and sold to export units. Panruti, the cashew capital of Tamil Nadu, annually has a processing capacity of 1,50,000 tonnes, with a turnover of ₹2,000 crore. -ADVERTISEMENT- Ads by Out of the 1,42,000 hectares under cashew cultivation in the State, Panruti accounts for about 35,000 hectares. There are around 32 export-oriented cashew production units in Panruti, besides 250 processing units and over 500 cottage industries. This February, the Tamil Nadu Cashew Processors and Exporters Association (TNCPEA) also applied for the Geographical Indication (GI) tag for Panruti cashews. GI tagging would not only provide a fillip to the industry but would also enhance the secondary economic activities in the region and safeguard the interests of farmers and cashew exporters, says M. Ramakrishnan, secretary, TNCPEA. Unique taste According to Mr. Ramakrishnan, “Panruti cashew is considered the best because of its flavour. It is mainly cultivated in laterite, red and coastal sands. Though the cashew looks small, it has a unique taste that makes it very marketable.” The cashew apples are also distinctively round-shaped and bright red in colour. The average fruit weight is 42.80 gm, while the nuts are of medium size, with an average weight of 6.63 gm and kernel weight of 1.7 g. The shelling percentage was 28.5 with a grade W 320 kernel count. “The markets in Kollam in Kerala, famed for its cashews, are already facing closures due to labour unrest. They have been losing out the market share, and Panruti is now trying to fill the gap and capture the market,” Mr. Ramakrishnan added. The cashew processing units start buying stocks from farmers from April to June, when the crop is harvested. The kernels are sun dried for three days, steam-boiled and transferred to a separator machine. The kernels are next roasted in a dryer and kept in a refrigeration chamber to loosen the outer testa from the nut. The processed nuts are classified as ‘White Wholes’ based on their size (180, 240, 320, SW 240, SW 320, JH, LWP, SWP and BB). The stocks are priced from ₹850 per kg for the premium varieties (180) to ₹700 per kg for (240) and ₹660 per kg for (JH) variety. According to an international study, out of six cashew varieties selected from different parts of India, the Panruti variety showed significant results in high raw protein content of 23.0g/100g. The moisture content of the cashew is also low, compared with the other varieties, according to a study published in Food Science and Nutrition, a journal. Panruti MLA T. Velmurugan says the government should look at viable alternatives for utilisation of cashew apples, since the entire stock is wasted after extraction of the nuts. “Cashew is mainly grown in Cuddalore, Perambalur and Ariyalur districts. Production of value-added products, including Feni which is produced in Goa, could be started in Panruti. This will not only ensure fair returns for cashew growers and workers but will help the industry expand and generate more jobs in the region,” he said. Cashew exporters point out that lack of comprehensive infrastructure has been hampering the growth of the industry. Panruti also lacks cold storage facilities. Now, the harvested cashews are either stored in small facilities owned by the farmers or transported to the government warehouses in Panruti, Vriddhachalam and Cuddalore. These warehouses are common for multiple farm produces. “During the cashew harvest season, lack of adequate space adds to the selling pressure, resulting in lower price realisation and diminished returns for farmers. This has been discouraging for farmers and has resulted in lack of growth,” said Mr. Ramakrishnan. “Cashew kernels are sensitive to atmospheric moisture, prone to infestation and even odour. A cold storage facility will ensure a longer shelf life of the nuts and prevent compulsive selling at a lower price during off-seasons,” he pointed out.