By Frederick Noronha, IANS,
Panjim : Feni, that uniquely Goa drink distilled from the cashew apple, is showing a sharp decline in production. This despite the fact that it is one of the best-known local liquors in India.
An unorganised as well as complex manufacturing and sale process, which has failed to improve with time, has led to a steep decline in the production of feni.
Although feni has gone from being the poor man's liquor to a popular drink that every tourist visiting the coastal state must have, production has gown down from 1,089,000 litres in 1971 to 875,000 litres in 2004.
In contrast, the production of Indian-made foreign liquor (IMFL) - or distilled spirits - climbed from 202,000 litres to 18.99 million litres in the same period, says a new baseline study led by Pranab Mukhopadhyay of Goa University and the South Asian Network for Development and Environmental Economics.
According to the study, the bulk of feni production is done in a semi-traditional manner and the process hasn't kept up with the times.
There are 19 bottlers, 94 wholesalers and 6,589 retailers of feni in Goa. There are 1,532 cashew zones and 2,656 licensed units are allowed to produce the liquor.
The northeastern sub-district of Sattari is the feni capital of Goa and has the largest number of cashew zones. It accounts for nearly 20 percent of the state's total area under cashew cultivation.
Researchers found that bottlers in the field are usually educated - 85 percent are graduates - while distillers are poorly educated and nearly 50 percent haven't studied beyond Class 8.
Nearly 30 percent of the distillers surveyed said their fathers had started the business while 12 percent said it was their grandfathers who ventured into the trade.
On the other hand, over 81 percent of wholesalers were first generation businessmen. For distillers, it was mostly a form of barefoot capitalism and small players dominated the field. Seventy-three percent of the distillers surveyed were running just one unit.
"Most of the people involved in the feni industry said they are first generation producers. A large majority claimed to have only one still," said Mukhopadhyay.
The study found that 77.5 percent of stills were semi-traditional. They used copper pots with a barrel filled with water for condensation. Modern stills accounted for just 2.6 percent of those surveyed.
The researchers found that feni is "not a homogeneous product". Due to differences in production technique, the quality, especially concentration levels, varies.
Taste based methods and traditional ways (pouring the liquor in a glass and stirring to see if bubbles are formed) are used to determine quality.
"There is a lack of uniform product testing mechanism. Feni is largely sold unbranded, but some brands have emerged due to private initiatives," said Mukhopadhyay.
Unbranded sales dominate the feni market in Goa. But there are reports that even Urak - the lighter grade of cashew liquor - is being bottled now. Significantly, since feni is classified as country liquor it cannot be sold outside the state.
"Seventy-five percent of the distillers sell to bars directly, while bottlers route their sales through wholesalers," said Mukhopadhyay.
"This is largely an unorganised industry. There was no group found among distillers, retailers or wholesalers. Only the bottlers claim to have an association and this is affecting production."