KOCHI: At a time when prices of most of the plantation crops, including rubber, tea and cardamom, are on a downward spiral, the rise in cocoa prices this year may prompt farmers to switch to cocoa, which is cultivated as an intercrop in coconut and arecanut farms.
At `200-210 per kg, cocoa bean prices are at their highest since 2011, and up by 23 per cent compared to last year’s `170 per kg. Kerala supplied 6,800 metric tonnes of cocoa beans last year. This year, the production has touched 5,000 metric tonnes, so far. “Because of the price increase, we expect a marginal increase in supplies this year,” said Directorate of Cashewnut and Cocoa Development director Venkatesh Hubballi. “If the price rise is sustained, we could see farmers providing more supplies,” he added.
Some of the big purchasers of cocoa beans are Mondelez International (owners of UK-based confectionery multinational Cadbury) and Campco. However, Nestle, which has a big presence in India, is conspicuous by its absence. “They may be importing chocolate powder into the country,” said industry sources.
“Cocoa prices are ruling high due to the impact of the Ebola outbreak in West Africa. There is fear that it may spread to Ivory Coast, which supplies nearly 40 per cent of the commodity, globally. The dry weather in West Africa (specifically in Ivory Coast and Ghana, which produce 30 per cent of the cocoa beans) has also decreased production in the region,” they said.
According to the International Cocoa Organisation, a fungal infection known as ‘frosty pod’ has reduced the global cocoa production by 30-40 per cent. “Several factors helped the prices to go up this year,” said Hubballi.
Johny, a farmer in Idukki district, said that the rise in cocoa prices had not helped much as rubber constituted the main source of income for an overwhelming majority of the farmers in the region. “The main crop for us is rubber, besides pepper and cardamom. Cocoa farms are just a small part, and hence the price rise has not helped us,” he said.
Rubber prices are at a 5-year low now, forcing farmers to abandon tapping as the labour charges and other input costs make it a loss-making proposition.
In Kerala, cocoa is cultivated in 13,483 hectares. The leading grower of cocoa is Andhra Pradesh - 7,500 metric tonnes from 22,240 hectares. Karnataka grows the crop in 11,683 hectares. Hubballi said that Tamil Nadu grows cocoa in about 23,969 hectares. It starts to yield the maximum from the fifth year onwards. The crop in Tamil Nadu is in its third and fourth year.