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Production of Goa’s Favourite Cashew Feni Hit Hard By The Lockdown

Goa’s villages are missing a heady aroma this summer—the strong smell of fermenting cashew apples, being transformed into feni. The annual feni production season is

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Cashew Feni Production in Goa
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Goa’s villages are missing a heady aroma this summer—the strong smell of fermenting cashew apples, being transformed into feni. The annual feni production season is here, but the distilleries, which were spruced up in January for the year’s production, are lying vacant.

While cashew farmers and feni distillers were unable to reap profits last year owing to the lockdown that was enforced from March-end, 2021 hasn’t been any better, as adverse weather conditions affected precious productive months of the season. Distillers and ‘Bhaktikars’ who are traditionally involved in feni making, as well as, stakeholders in the industry were forced to give up production a month before the season ended in May.

As Hansel Vaz, owner of Cazulo Premium Feni and the brain behind India’s first feni cellar, says: “It’s a complete washout.”

The villages, primarily in the hilly areas of Valpoi, Canacona, Pernem, and Sanguem, have numerous feni distillers, both big and small. There are farmers with smaller facilities, who produce up to 1,000 liters in a year, as well as those who manufacture over 100,000 liters in a season. The feni-making season begins in the first week of March when the cashew apples start ripening and goes on till the end of May.

Feni distillation is an intrinsic part of Goan culture. In the hilly villages, Christmas celebrations end with the frenetic activity of setting up the distilling facilities. Makeshift huts are built, existing ones are spruced up, the heavy stone-crushers for pressing the fruit are brought in and copper and terracotta pots for fermentation are arranged carefully.

The government’s orders to stop production dealt a blow to the industry that has a two-pronged source of income. One is from cashew nuts and the other from the fruit that is pressed into juice and distilled into feni. The first distillate collected is a light aromatic drink called urak. It is sold in the market to bring in the first round of revenue. 

“It brings in cash flows that help people pay salaries and cover some of the expenses incurred on sprucing up the distilling facilities,” says Vaz. Unable to distill the cashew juice into urak, and then feni, farmers found it uneconomical to collect the fruit. A shortage of labor also affected fruit collection as migrant labourers promptly left for their homes near the border areas, fearing they could be stuck endlessly during the lockdown.

Though the cashew season started on a bright note in February-March, feni manufacturers had a hard time procuring cashew apples due to less yield. “Initially, flowering held a promising season, but bad weather conditions in the following months disturbed the fruiting pattern, thus leading to loss of crop,” said Bhakta.

The feni industry, says Vaz, accounts for barely 2 percent of the total revenue collected by the excise department in the state. But for distillers, particularly the smaller farmers, it is a key source of income. With a short shelf life of a few months, urak is sold to local consumers as soon as it’s ready, but the cashew feni can last up to 10 years. As it gets older, the price goes up, increasing the profits for the manufacturers. “It is like a fixed deposit for farmers who can afford to wait,” says Vaz.

With the state likely to see fewer tourist footfalls, local businessmen expect several restaurants and shops selling crafts and local produce to visitors to shut down. With that, the cashew feni business stares at a spiritless year ahead.

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