This Odisha Researcher Is On A Mission To Grow Storm-Resistant Coconut Trees, Help Farmers

Coconut water, coconut milk, raw coconut, brooms from the tree leaves and coir ropes. This is one such tree variety every part of which can be utilised to the best and generate revenue.

The trees take nearly nine years to grow and bear fruits and are also the ones that withstand cyclones. Many of us may be aware of this, but it was a researcher with a background in healthcare and PhD in biochemistry from IIT-Roorkee, Dr Satya Tapas, who found the connection with coconut farming and had a desire to do something for the farmers who can earn regular income from growing the trees.

Harvest from the Cocoter farm

With a desire to be the agent for a systematic change in the agricultural practices of Odisha farmers, who are frequently affected by the onslaught of cyclones on the east coast, Tapas launched an imitative to train farmers in best practices for coconut farming .

This idea gave birth to Cocoter Natural Drinks Pvt Ltd on the occasion of Rath Yatra in 2018.

Journey so far

Tapas, a coconut farming enthusiast hailing from Dhenkanal in Odisha, had returned to India in 2015 to set up an AI healthcare venture in Bangalore.

During this time, he visited Odisha and that was also the time when a cyclone had struck the state and caused large scale devastation, flattening crops. But, what caught this healthcare innovator’s attention was the standing coconut trees which had survived nature’s onslaught.

Instantly, the idea to push coconut farming and help farmers suffering losses due to natural disasters struck him.

Talking to Odisha Bytes, Tapas said, “Coconut farming in Odisha is as ancient as the Konark temple or even the Jagannath temple. We can comfortably call it the native crop. There is also a huge demand in the market for coconut products.”

From healthcare to agriculture, it has been a diverse journey and he says, probably it was the call of Lord Jagannath. “It all started accidentally when I realised the fundamental problem, and saw a huge market opportunity there. I had a solution and I had the motivation,” he said.

However, Tapas realised that marketing and awareness on crop cultivation was way too less and there was also a misconception that these trees grow only on coastline. He started with hybrid crops which start yielding fruits sooner, are easier to harvest, and stand sturdier during storms.

In the initial days, it took the company almost four months to sell 50 seedlings. As they started creating awareness, mainly through word of mouth, they started getting more interest, and now have 5,000 orders for the coming month. “From 50 to 5,000 we have come a long way,” Tapas said.

Imparting drought-resistant techniques

He explained that coconut trees grow really well on red soil and sandy soil too. In the southern states, except for Kerala, coconut trees are grown in the interiors be it the Rajahmundary belt in Andhra Pradesh or Mysore in Karnataka and even parts of Tamil Nadu.

Tapas started working on the idea and introduced hybrid variety of coconut cultivation in the state. There are nearly 6 varieties of dwarf coconut trees in the country, mostly grown in the south, and Odisha is new to the concept.

The TedX speaker, who is also the Founder Director of SciDogma Research, said they are educating famers on hybrid farming and at the same time working to find funding agents to secure loans for farmers so that more of them can take up the plantation on a part of their land to begin with.

Explaining the difference between the two, Tapas said low height and early fruiting brings benefits. While a native variety takes 4 to 5 years to grow and first flowering happens in 8 years, a hybrid variety grows 3 feet tall in 3 years and bears fruits too. It is also easy to maintain, he added.

In Odisha, the coconut trees are of tall varieties, including the East Coast tall and East Coast Sakshigopal tall. These varieties survive 60 years and fruiting also starts after 7 to 9 years. But, the dwarf variety starts bearing fruits in 3 years and the number of fruits grows in 5 years.

Plantation process

Farmers will have to invest a maximum of Rs 1 lakh for an acre of land, including the cost for drip irrigation and farm hands, and can earn more than double the amount from the third year of planting the crop.

The dwarf trees start bearing 70 to 100 fruits in the 3rd year and the number goes up to 250 in the 5th year. “If a farmer sells a coconut directly by eliminating the middlemen, he will earn more profits. We are working on these modules too to help farmers increase their profits and lead a good life.

“The seedlings that we are distributing here are hybrid variety (mother palm is a dwarf cultivar and father palm is tall tree of west coast tall cultivar). By doing this, we help in growing coconuts that can be used both, as a tender coconut as well normal one whose fruit can be used for cooking purposes, as in Odisha,” said the researcher.

In Odisha, Cocoter has helped to grow commercial hybrid coconut farms in Jharsuguda, Banki, Sakhigopal (10 acres), Balakati, Jagatsinghpur and received orders to grow more farms in Nayagarh (30 acres), Pattanaika (10 acres), Derabish (5 acres), Delanga (15 acres) and Dhenkanal (5 acres), among other places.

“At present, we are working as service hands but want to make it an organised market,” he added.

“Since the past one-and-a-half year, we have been planting trees on daily basis. This monsoon, we are targeting to plant more than 4,000 coconut seedlings across the state. Perhaps, this is one of the biggest plantation drives in the Odisha,” he said proudly.

With the hope to raise the number of seedlinsgs to 3 to 5 lakh in the next 10 years, he envisions a future where Odisha would be back on the top of coconut farming map of India, a place it had occupied about 30 years back. “For this we would need the help of government and funding agents to turn into an organised sector, and utilise every component of the fruit. Be it oil, milk, tender coconut water or even the desiccated coconut,” he said.

We have developed a new plantation technique for first time in the country to make commercial farm cyclone resistant. We have already developed such farms in Banki, Balakati and Sakhigopal, he added.

On the future of coconut farming, Tapas said, “So long as there are temples, there will be demand for coconuts.”

And, well we know that for a state popular for its tagline “12 masa 13 parba”, the demand for coconut can never wane.

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