Kerala: Lockdown pushes toddy tappers into a pit of despair

Agriculture Business State

Around four lakh litres of toddy is dumped every day because toddy shops are closed and there are no customers.

Kerala: The Covid-19 pandemic has not only affected the business of toddy shops, but also toddy tappers. Customers have reduced due to the second wave of Covid-19 induced lockdown. Toddy tappers have been given orders by the government to spill the brew extracted from coconut palms into the open.

The spilling of toddy has created panic for about 27,384-odd toddy workers in the state. Customers have been turned away by the closure of toddy shops, since April 26, 2021.

C.V. Pavitran, a toddy tapper from Andaloor said,’’I don’t make any money now. It’s becoming increasingly difficult for me. I can’t just give up and stay at home. I need to take care of my coconut palms so that they are not damaged in the future. This work requires a great deal of patience and hard work. I can’t just hand over my job to anyone else. Every day, we need to look after the trees as if they are our children. I tap 24 trees in a day. It is not possible to climb the trees during rainy season especially now since it has been raining non stop for the past few weeks due to the Tauktae cyclone.’’

Kerala’s Abkari Act Rules prohibit toddy tappers from selling to customers directly so it has only increased the worries of toddy tappers. The toddy tappers with license are only allowed to keep the toddy for 48 hours after that it must be destroyed, according to the rules. The major source of toddy in Kerala is Chittur, which is located in the Palakkad district. The region provides toddy to 11 of the 14 districts. 

‘’I used to get Rs.90 for toddy (kaalu) if the cost in toddy shops was Rs 150. I used to sell toddy to nearby toddy shops, and the owner of the toddy shop would pay me on aper litre basis. I have to pay Rs.300 for the rent for trees to the excise department,’’ said Mr.Pavithran..

Tappers cannot stop extracting palms even if they do not have sale.The flower and trunk will begin to decay if the toddy overflowing from the pots kept on top of the palm to extract brew is not collected.To prepare a coconut tree for extraction takes a long time. This could take up to six months. As a result, tappers cannot avoid work due to a lockdown, with pots remaining on the top of the trees.

Mukundan.P another toddy tapper from Eranholi said, “In a day, I tap eight trees, and I tap them for three days straight to get four to five litres of toddy. I don’t have a choice but to do this job. Earning money has become more difficult for me now. I have to keep testing, to see if Panna (tree) has any rot, or else it will take another month to heal,  and restore the tree to its previous state.”

Falgunan.K, Former head of Economics Department of Brennen college, Thalaserry said,’’After fermentation, toddy is usually consumed by the end of the day, as it becomes more sour and acidic over time. They might be incurring a daily loss of around 2,000 rupees per shop due to the lockdown, which includes wages, licence fees, tree rent, taxes, tools and repair costs, and building rent. It is important to learn and research more about Neera (palm nectar), which will help them to save the palm from getting destroyed.’’

After winning the election again the Pinarayi Vijayan-led LDF government has announced the implementation of a programme to eradicate extreme poverty, which will begin on August 15. The program’s details are yet to be revealed. 

Toddy tappers, autorickshaw drivers, coir and agriculture workers, traditional seafaring fishers, and cashew workers are among those who will benefit from the new welfare schemes. To help toddy tappers during the crisis, the Toddy Shop Licensee Association urged the government to allow shops to open for six hours instead of twelve, and to sell toddy on a token basis.