Palm oil for Kerala: Godsend then, a curse now
Monday December 10 2007 00:06 IST
For Keralites, palm oil is a saviour turned villain. When coconut oil,
the cooking oil of Kerala households, touched the then record price of
Rs.70 for a kg in 1985, the State Government imported palm oil from
Malaysia and distributed through ration shops at Rs 15 to Rs 20. It was
a great relief for the low and middleincome groups as it saved a lot of
Paradoxically, the State which gave a red carpet welcome to palm oil in
the time of crisis is now trying to boot it out under the intuition that
it pushes down coconut oil price making life miserable of the 36 lakh
coconut growers in the State. Kerala consumes 2.5 lakh tonne of palm oil
in a year as against 1.5 lakh tonne of coconut oil. In other words, over
60 percent of households, almost all hotels, restaurants, bakery and
chip frying units use the oil. In the course of the time, the wide gap
in the prices of palm oil and coconut oil has narrowed down.
During the past 25 years or so the price of coconut has been hovering
around Rs 4-7 per nut, while other crops� price went up many folds
during this period. This gives an impression to farmers, National
Coconut Development Board and the State Government that palm oil makes
the coconut oil slippery in the market.
At the peak of farmers agitation demanding ban of palm oil, they
literally trained out palm oil in the street. The protest captured the
attention of even international media. National Coconut Development
Board has requested the Union Government to ban import of palm oil
through all South Indian ports.
Along with this, the board has lunched a campaign to blast the myth
created by industrial consumers of coconut oil that high saturated fat
in the oil is harmful to heart. The board allays the fear of the
household consumers highlighting the opinion experts and research
results. The campaign also focuses on the medicinal value such as its
anti-septic characteristics of the oil. The Union Government, however,
is reluctant to concede the demand of the board on import. It is of the
view that since the 40 percent of the total country�s palm oil imports
through the South Indian ports, banning will not be a prudential move.
However, yielding to the pressure from the State, the Centre has banned
import through the Kochi port. Since importing through the Kochi port is
more beneficial, the importers moved the High Court challenging the ban.
The court has granted their plea. Within a week, they imported 16,000
tonne of palm oil through Kochi port and 2000 tonne through Beypore port
This triggered fresh agitation against palm oil. Protest march and
meeting were held by various organizations. Some parts of the State
observed harthal. Chief Minister VS Achuthanandan earned the wrath of
the court for his comment on court�s decision.
Finally the court has restored the ban. Then the situations were so
charged in the State that the authorities detained 1785 tonne of palm
oil Ruchi Soya group brought to Kochi by rail for several days.
The traders bring the oil through the Beypore port and by road and rail.
Commodity analysts and agriculture economists say that palm oil has only
a partial, if not negligible impact on the coconut and its oil prices.
Apart from palm oil, lot of coconut oil is coming to Kerala from Tamil
Nadu, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh which have entered the coconut
farming in a big way. So banning of palm oil or in that matter any other
edible oil in the State, will not be a remedy for the malady afflicted
the coconut sector.
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