KOCHI: When Charles Vijay Varghese was working in Oman in 2015, he came across a report which stated that there was a shortage of tappers of neera (nectar extracted from coconut trees) in Kerala. Wanting to fill the gap and triggered by a sense of innovation, Charles returned to Kerala in 2017, only to re-emerge with the 'Sapper', an automated neera extractor.
The founder of NAVA Design and Innovation, Charles pitched it to the Maker Village, Kalamassery. They were impressed and incubated the Sapper. Years later, his brainchild was patented by the Department of Industrial Policy and Promotion, Startup India and he also received a grant from the Kerala Startup Mission. Having built a working prototype, Charles is already a step ahead.
With a state that boasts of an abundance of coconut trees and with reports of neera being a health drink, the advent of Sapper is timely. However, the notion that technology reduces manual labour, is dispelled.
"Usually a tapper has to climb the tree at least thrice a day for three months to slice the inflorescence (male and female flowers on a stem), to get the juice. With Sapper, the tapper needs to climb the tree only twice, for fixing the device on the inflorescence and for removing it. Neera is collected from the stem in a long pipe which connects the device to a tank on the ground. Along with the device is a mobile application. The sensor within the device slices the sap to extract the nectar. A notification will alert the owner when neera is collected in its entirety," says Jithin Shaji, a supervisor at NAVA Design and Innovation.
The Sapper boasts of an integrated battery and a solar board. The one-time installation device can be fixed on a number of coconut trees. "The Sapper has been set up on trees that are close to our homes. And it has been tried and tested," Jithin says.
With the arrival of the Sapper in the market, the coconut industry is set to be revolutionised, as the exploitation of neera will lead to value-added products. Nevertheless, the patent for Sapper is not limited to India. He has got similar patents in coconut-producing countries such as Sri Lanka and the Philippines. As a result, the demand for Sapper has increased multi-fold.