KOCHI: The ‘villains’ in the piece for the farmers getting too little returns for their produce—be it pepper, cardamom, turmeric, chilli, nutmeg or clove—are the spices companies. Or at least they are portrayed as the ‘big companies’ making huge profits from their value-added final products while giving too little to the farmers.But, they have a different story to tell. True, value-added spice companies from Kerala such as the Synthite Group are expanding their global footprint, while others such as the Eastern Condiments, Anna Group and K K R Group (Nirapara brand) have all established a market for their products, tickling the taste buds of Malayalees, and are growing at a fast clip.
“The problem with farmers in Kerala is we can’t rely on them to provide us with the produce even though we may have entered into an agreement to supply the spices,” says Viju Jacob, managing director, Synthite Industries. “When the prices shoot up, they opt to sell the produce in the outside market even though we may have agreed to buy the produce at `20/kg premium.” Synthite, which is considered the world’s largest producer of value-added spices catering to high-end products such as spice oils and oleoresins, recently entered the curry powder market through its ‘Kitchen Treasures’ brand.
Jacob says Synthite does not face such a situation from farmers in Andhra Pradesh from where the company procures chilli. It works closely with local farmers, providing them full education and support. The company also maintains a farmer data and follows a coding system for their produce, allowing it to maintain quality control of the raw ingredients and complete traceability.
A big complaint raised by the farming community in Kerala is large scale import of pepper from Sri Lanka and Vietnam and cardamom from Guatemala (a Central American country) has resulted in the sharp decline in the prices of the two key spices of the state. “We work in a global market, and to compete in the international markets, we need to have the pricing advantage,” says Navas M Meeran, chairman of Eastern Condiments, which is expanding in the north Indian markets and has a big presence in the Gulf region.