Published: 06th November 2020
A device that can extract coconut nectar? That's the deal this Kerala start-up has for you
NAVA Design and Innovation has created a device that can automate the process of coconut nectar extraction. This is why it's such a cool idea that can really boost our gastronomic thoughts
Despite having one of the largest farming communities in the world, India continues to lag behind when it comes to modernising agriculture. “More than 60 per cent of the nation’s manpower is engaged in agricultural work, so mechanisation can happen at a very large scale and help a large number of people, but we have been very slow to catch up on this trend,” says Charles Vijay Varghese, the founder of NAVA Design and Innovation.
In October, NAVA became one of three start-ups from Kerala to win the National Start-up Award for their work in this very sector. Their device, Saper, is able to extract neera (palm nectar) from coconut and palm trees. Charles explains, “The greatest issue that we face when it comes to procuring neera is that the trees are extremely tall and the tappers need to climb these trees at least three times to complete the process. Unfortunately, accidents have become very common for the labourers.”
With Saper, the tree tapper has to climb the tree once and install the device in the coconut or palm flower. The device takes care of everything from hollowing out the flower to locating the nectar. After this, a tube connected to the device carries the liquid into the ground where the farmers can collect it conveniently. Currently, the device has crossed over from prototyping to their pilot stage. Charles and his team hope that it will be available in the market at least in the span of a year.
Charles, who was an engineer in Oman, returned to Kerala in July 2017 when he had officially registered the company. He was inspired back in 2013 when the concept of extracting neera had grown very popular in the state. Following a failed attempt by the state’s Coconut Development Board to install extraction plants in various districts, he was inspired to find a more sustainable way to tap into the industry.
Charles explains that the method involved in extracting neera or toddy is similar. Neera is what is accessed first and if you break into it, you get arrack. He says, “The device itself is complex. In Robotics, it involves electronics embedded systems, programming, automation and cloud networking. And for this, we have the most updated tech experts. Since it has not been explored before in the Indian context, there is a huge scope for mechanisation in this area. I want to help the next generation go back to agriculture with the knowledge that we have now.”
With simple leaps in innovation like Saper, NAVA promises a future where agriculture plays a prominent part. Charles emphasises on the need to catch up with the global economy, “There are other products that can be derived from neera like syrup which can be used as a natural sweetener. Coconut sugar and coconut cider vinegar are other billion-dollar businesses. Such products are still unknown to our farmers who have the most to gain from it. So it’s time to think much wider when it comes to the future of farming.”