The prices black pepper have been fetching in the Indian market are skyrocketing and setting new records. However, the decreasing output, and the fact that traders are making profits and farmers are quitting cultivation are having an adverse impact on the market.
The price rise is not beneficial to the farmers. The increase in the demand for pepper, coupled with the tight supply of it in India, has resulted in the spice touching the Rs 630 per kg mark.
India, which is among the largest consumers of spices, is importing black pepper from Vietnam. However, this has triggered off fears that the Indian market could become neutralised.
The Spice Board’s Trade Information Department stated that the estimated production of black pepper in Kerala this year was about 45,000 tonne, but the target wasn’t achieved. It was estimated to be 45,000 tonne and worth Rs 350-360 per kg last year as well.
Black pepper continues to be in demand overseas, owing to its high quality. But the supply is insufficient. In fact, farmers have pegged the production to be under 30,000 tonne.
A major share of the profit is distributed in a few hands, while the farmer in Kerala grapples with diseases affecting the cultivation of the spice and the changes in the climate. Many have even quit cultivation due to the losses they are incurring and the fact that the market is controlled.
Some pepper farmers are selling their produce at lower prices to make ends meet, because most of them are poor. However, those who are smart enough to hoard the commodity till its price rises are reaping the profits.
While the fluctuations are obviously detrimental to the market in general, and the cultivation of pepper in particular, farmers have also complained about the lack of governmental support as another reason for the problem.
The pepper production in Kerala has declined by nearly 40 per cent this year, vis-a-vis last year. Spice scientist Rejimon Njallani stated, “Pepper cultivation is vanishing from our state, due to diseases affecting pepper and controlled market.”
“Many farmers found it non profitable and quitting the field. The government has to take serious steps to regain our monopoly in the market. The growing prices indicate an increasing demand and decreasing production,” he reiterated.
“The Spice Board must standardise the prices to save the market. The government should encourage good research for better disease-resistant varieties and cultivation methods of pepper. Farmers need a proper fund allocation from the government to stay in the field,” Njallani added.