Financial Daily from THE HINDU group of publications
Friday, Mar 31, 2006
Agri-Biz & Commodities
Horticulture/Fruits & Vegetables
Industry & Economy - Foods & Food Processing
States - Tamil Nadu
Business in banana country
Tiruchi not only accounts for 10 per cent of Tamil Nadu's banana production, but is also the largest supplier to Kerala for the manufacture of banana chips.
Yummy ideas: A manufacturing facility for dehydrated banana products in Tiruchi. Picture by M. Moorthy
Bananas can take Tiruchi places, if only the current trend of fruit processing takes hold, according to growers and processors.
Tiruchi not only accounts for 10 per cent of Tamil Nadu's banana production, but is the largest supplier to Kerala for making banana chips.
Why sell bananas outside only to buy them back in the costlier form, as chips?
A host of entrepreneurs and farmers are looking at setting up banana processing units in Tiruchi. For the farmers, this is an option to stabilise prices. Fresh fruit prices can drop from Rs 15 a kg to less than half during the flush periods.
Dr C.K. Narayana, Senior Scientist (Horticulture), National Research Centre for Banana, said that the institute has developed banana-processing technologies and has been training entrepreneurs. A few units have sprung up over the last two years, and after initial test marketing, are optimistic enough to get into commercial production.
Dried bananas, pickles from banana flowers, jams, juices, and sauces are just some of the more than 30 products that can be commercialised - even better packaging of the popular favourite potato chips, is gaining ground, he added.
According to Dr P. Selvaraj, Assistant General Manager (District Development), Nabard, the institute and Nabard have been regularly holding training sessions for farmers and potential entrepreneurs.
He said that Tiruchi produces about 3.98 lakh tonnes of bananas - the single largest production concentrated in any one place in any district.
A banana cluster is being set up under the National Programme for Rural Industrialisation to encourage banana-based products.
Mr R. Sivasubramanian, Executive Director of DorVen Agro Eco-Bio Ventures, who has set up a Rs 1-crore banana processing unit near Chennai with technology sourced from the banana research centre, said that he is planning more units in Tiruchi over the next two years. Pickles, jams, squashes and juices are just some of the products possible.
Mr T. Mariappan, a farmer in Tiruchi who runs a banana processing unit, said that he has set up a banana-drying unit for about Rs 3 lakh. Over four kg of fresh fruit costing about Rs 30-40 give about a kilo of dried bananas that can be sold for about Rs 200.
Mr R. Saravanan of NR Foods, a farmer with over 100 acres under banana cultivation, is looking at a Rs 30-lakh project for banana chips and biscuits. He now makes pickles from banana flowers.
Dr Narayanan said that the trend is just catching on in Tiruchi. But the farmers need support systems. The institution and Nabard can only do so much but how about funding, running the business and marketing? These are farmers willing to experiment. But funding is tough, he said. They need to convince banks about the viability of the new projects. The concept needs to be sold. Marketing is another obstacle. They need the reach and access to large cities for the business to really take off.
The New Anna Marumalarchi Thittam, a Government-sponsored scheme to encourage rural industries, has been a support. But the banks need to get more involved, he added.
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