Hic, hic! Hiccups for Goa’s feni industry

April 9th, 2008 - 10:29 am ICT by admin  

By Frederick Noronha
Panaji, April 9 (IANS) Goa’s traditional liquor feni needs more than just tipsy tourists to keep it going. The popular drink is facing challenges on its home turf even as an effort has been initiated to seek Geographical Indication (GI) for it. Goa has been trying to get a GI for feni for some time now. A geographical indication is a name or sign used on certain products or which corresponds to a specific geographical location or origin - a town, region, or country.

GI acts as a certification that the product possesses certain qualities, or enjoys a certain reputation, due to its geographical origin.

Feni, the traditional Goan liquor made from cashew apple or coconut sap, is facing a number of challenges on economic and other grounds. It faces competition from other IMFLs (Indian-made foreign liquors), problems of adulteration, and the poor price its producers get.

One of the biggest problems is feni’s classification as “country liquor” by the excise authorities. This means it cannot be legally sent to other states of India, placing the odds against it, more so in times of growing market competition from other liquors entering Goa.

Feni has long been considered a “poor man’s” drink, though now tourists and visitors have also taken to it.

It has been fighting an image problem, part of which comes from the strong whiff that comes with the traditional drink.

“People don’t know how to drink it. It goes well in cocktails, and our exhibitions in places like Delhi show that even ladies appreciate a mild feni drink,” said Arun of Madame Rosa Distillery, a prominent player in Goa that is trying hard to promote a hep image for the drink.

But there were some fears voiced that Goa’s large neighbour Maharashtra might allow its cashew growers to enter the field of feni production soon.

“When you have to sell it at Rs.550 per ‘kolso’ (a traditional pot that contains 15 bottles of the liquor), it is simply not remunerative,” said Angelo Barreto of Batora in Curtorim, an agriculturist and small producer of quality Feni.

Others in the field spoke of corruption in getting permits and licences in this tightly controlled field, which only makes operations unviable.

Last week, University of Warwick’s assistant professor in law Dwijen Rangnekar organised a daylong meeting on the GI-for-feni issue that is part of an academic research project, which began with fieldwork in Goa some time ago.

“There was nobody to lay standards, and nobody to test the standards for Feni. Then development commissioner J.K. Dadoo asked different officials, including librarians at the central library here, experts at the Indian Council for Agricultural Research and economists of the Goa University to take up these tasks,” said Goa Chambers of Commerce and Industry (GCCI) director-general P.K. Pinto.

The GCCI has also been prominently involved in the activity of getting GI for Feni.

Products that have benefited from geographical indications include Tequila and Mezcal from Mexico, Scotch whisky from Britain and Champagne from France.

Officials also spoke on how GIs benefited some traditional producers.

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