KOCHI: It’s one of the most chilling developments being played out in the state’s economy, but it is yet to catch the government’s attention. The prices of nearly all plantation crops - the backbone of Kerala’s agriculture sector - are on a downward spiral for the past 8-12 months. A revival seen in some commodities such as rubber, latex, pepper, cocoa and even cardamom, seem to be shortlived, crashing down the farmers’ expectations of a lasting turnaround in their fortunes.
Consider this: Pepper which ruled over Rs 700/kg for last year is now trading at Rs 400-range/kg; natural rubber (RSS-4), which hit a high of Rs 158/kg, has fallen to Rs 130/kg; the latex price declined from Rs 115/kg to Rs 80/kg; nutmeg from Rs 220/kg to Rs 140/kg; cocoa from Rs 200/kg to Rs 90/kg and arecanut from Rs 220/kg to Rs 135/kg. Cardamom prices, which have been giving good prices till recently, have also crashed by Rs 200-300/kg from Rs 1280/kg in the past few weeks.
M C Saju, who grows a range of mix of crops including nutmeg, rubber, coconut and cocoa in Koothattukulam, says the most hit are those rubber farmers who were selling latex.
“A 26 per cent drop in prices all of a sudden in latex is heartbreaking for many,” he says.
Saju says the price fall was so sudden and unexpected. “The farming community in Kerala survives because the second generation is employed in the IT sector and the nursing sector. There is another source of income,” he says.
P Indiradevi, director of research, Kerala Agriculture University, echoes this view pointing out that as per the National Sample Survey-2013, only 27 per cent of rural households in Kerala are farmers, and out of the agriculture households 61 per cent has non-agriculture income. She says the farmers in Kerala, especially those involved in pepper, cardamom and rubber, have been affected by the various trade treaties that India has signed with neighbouring countries. “The unregulated import of pepper from Vietnam via Sri Lanka, and cardamom through Nepal have made the prices of these two commodities very volatile,” she says, adding that unfortunately, Indian pepper and cardamom do not command higher prices though it is globally acknowledged that our commodities are far superior.
“We have failed to ensure higher prices for our pepper and cardamom, both of which are globally accepted as having the finest quality,” she says. Joshy Joseph Manniparambil - a Kanjirappally-based planter says the inflow of Vietnam pepper through Sri Lanka sans import duty is acting as a spoiler for domestic pepper prices. Sasendra Babu of Vandanmedu Green Gold Cardamom Producer Company says despite the recent dip, cardamom price is still on the higher side. “The problem faced by farmers in cardamom is labour shortage, which has resulted in the commodity ripening before plucking,” he says.