KOCHI: The state government’s plans to boost the farming sector through mega plans such as CIAL-model tyre manufacturing unit in Kottayam, marketing Wayanad coffee powder under global brand name of ‘Malabar Coffee’ and rice parks for produce value-added rice products may look good on paper but will be a tough proposition to get implemented and work on the ground.
“Kerala’s traditional agriculture sector has matured and reached a plateau. Value addition possibility area is spices such as pepper and cardamom. As far as tyre factory is concerned, the fact remains that we don’t have an industrial culture. We don’t know how to start an industry, let alone how to run it successfully,” said Renny Jacob, group chairman, Homegrown Biotech, a Kanjirappally-based company involved in research and cultivation of exotic tropical fruits that can be grown in Indian climate.
In his budget speech, Finance Minister T M Thomas Isaac had said: “The present crisis cannot be overcome without foraying into the production of value-added products of rubber. For this, a company in the model of Cochin International Airport Ltd (CIAL) will be registered in 2019-20. The KSIDC has prepared detailed documents in this regard. The land will be acquired and preliminary work will begin this year. Kinfra has been entrusted with the task of finding 200 acres of land in Kottayam district for the project. Efforts are on to bring a large scale manufacturing (company) as the main investor in the park.”
According to Renny, the proposed plan cannot succeed in Kerala as we have poor public sector models in the state. “Though we have CIAL, its success story could not be replicated in other sectors,” he said.
Joshy Joseph Maniparambil, general secretary, Kerala Farmers Federation (KeFF), said a factory to manufacture tyres and other value-added rubber products will be difficult to compete with the likes of MNCs, who have deep pockets to implement the latest technology and install the state-of-the-art machines. “Frankly, I don’t think it will work,” he said, about the proposed CIAL-model tyre manufacturing unit.
With regard to the coffee powder, he said there has to be a common blend. “Coffee powder from different estates tastes different. The proposed ‘Malabar Coffee’ should taste the same every time. It’s very difficult to compete in a market with big players through the cooperative sector,” Joshy said, pointing out the flop story of ‘Neera’, the coconut sap brand, which failed due to the different taste of the product made by different producers.
“The big question is do we have cost competence to produce value-added products here. Unfortunately, the answer is no. The government thinks capital can solve all the problems. But it is not the solution. What we need is management culture and governance culture, which we don’t have,” said Renny, adding that the state also does not have cost competency in most areas, including employee costs.
“What we have is trading opportunities in some fruits such as pineapple, rambutan etc, which will flourish in Kerala only due to our unique weather, and value-addition opportunities in these fruits,” he said. Here too, the government’s efforts have proved to be a failure. The Vazhakulam Agro Fruit Processing Company Ltd, which produces the ‘Jive’ brand of pineapple juice, floated back in the late 1990s, is yet to make a cut in the highly competitive fruit-juice market.