‘Pal’ in raptures over proposed fruit-based low-alcohol beverage

Price fluctuation is the major issue faced by pineapple farmers. Hence, they are pretty upbeat on the government proposal which they believe is the way forward. 

Published: 10th November 2019 07:03 AM  |   Last Updated: 10th November 2019 07:03 AM   |  A+A-

Workers busy loading pineapples into trucks at the pineapple market at Vazhakulam. The farmers here are having a tough time as the price of the produce is going down due to unfavourable weather | Albin Mathew

Express News Service

KOCHI:  Vazhakulam at Muvattupuzha here, Asia’s biggest pineapple market called the country’s ‘pineapple capital’,  is agog with excitement at the govcrnment proposal to produce wine and low-alcohol liquor from fruits since the farmers believe it promises benefits  on a scale not seen before.
“We have been trying to hard sell  the idea of producing wine and low-alcohol liquor from pineapple for a while now. The government move should be applauded and we believe it will be a great boost to pineapple farmers and the farming sector,” Thomas Varghese, president, Vazhakulam Merchants’ Association.  Besides, the  traders’ association had demanded that a brewery or distillery be set up at Vazhakulam for pineapple-based beverages.

“The Nadukkara Agro-Processing Company , makers of popular fruit drink ‘Jive’ is defunct now. The machinery has become outdated. If the government takes proper initiatives, the brewery can be set up there,” said Thomas. Price fluctuation is the major issue faced by pineapple farmers. Hence, they are pretty upbeat on the government proposal which they believe is the way forward. 

“When the price goes down, there will be surplus. The fruits become damaged and farmers suffer. Some even get damaged during the plantation phase itself. At times, societies like Horticorp procure tonnes of pineapple, but that won’t help the farmers. So when the demand is down, it can be procured to produce wine and liquor,” according to Thomas.  

The pineapple market generates business worth around `1,000 crore. Merchants’ Association  statistics show around 100 trucks carrying 1,000 tonnes of pineapple are being dispatched  from Vazhakulam market daily. During popular festivals like Ramadan, the truckload goes upto 150-200. The fruit is sent to New Delhi, Mumbai, Hyderabad, Jaipur, Surat, Chandigarh, Chennai, Bengaluru, Srinagar and Kolkata. Of these, New Delhi and Mumbai are the biggest market for Vazhakulam pineapples. And  15-18 tonnes are sent to these places on board Torres lorries.

Mauritius pineapple is the widely exported variety of pineapple from Vazhakulam. The A-grade pineapples are the exported ones. The advantage is that B-grade and C-grade pineapples can be used for the production of wine and alcohol. The farmers are pretty relieved that  ripe fruits too can be used since these cannot be exported. “ The sector being a major revenue earner, the government should offer low-interest loans to enable pineapple farmers to set up processing units,” says Thomas.

Brand identity
Merchants’ Association representatives said they are yet to decide on branding for the product. “We are awaiting  government’s instructions. The brand name and cap on the  alcohol content will be decided only after this. Since Vazhakulam pineapples are GI-tagged, the products will be much in demand. The government should issue licences to small processing units and associations after charging  small fees,” says Thomas.

Marketing blitz 
Farmers underscored the need for a well-devised marketing blitz which is crucial to the products’ success.  “Goan Feni has a good market in the country. If the government does good marketing, our products will get a similar reach. Besides BEVCO outlets, the products should be sold through supermarkets,” adds Thomas.

Concerns
Inclement weather is a major issue confronting pineapple farmers. Even developments in Mumbai and New Delhi can impact the price of Vazhakulam pineapple. Farmers will benefit only if the price remains steady. There is also a wrong notion among the public that  pineapples are laced with pesticides. “This is not true. Pineapple is the only fruit in Kerala which is free from chemicals. That’s why  there is soaring demand,” says Thomas.

Holding price line
Antony Vettiyankal, a pineapple farmer for the past 33 years, said the fruit’s per kilo price should be pegged at `28-30  consistently for the farmers to derive financial gains.  “Then only the farmers stand to gain. September-January is the season and inclement weather has hit sales. The new policy is good but needs to be implemented properly. If it is implemented, we won’t have to worry about the surplus quantity. It will provide encouragement to small-scale farmers too,” he says.

Good policy
Baby John, president, Vazhakulam Pineapple Growers’ Association, while terming the proposal a boon to farmers said the government should complete the legal formalities and provide moral support to those entering the business. “The farm sector is witnessing a slump now. And the pineapple sector is the only exception to this. Presently, there is no system for procuring surplus crop and processing it.  If the policy is implemented, the issue can be solved. As a farmer, I welcome this initiative,” he said.

4,00,000 tonnes

Annual production 

Truck numbers 
(daily): 100 
150-200 
(peak season) 
Peak season is the month of Ramzan. Also January, October, September, May
Export to Middle East (UAE, Bahrain) 
1-1.5 tonne daily
Trucks to Mumbai 
(daily) 30-50
Trucks to New 
Delhi (daily) : 15-25
Quantity of pineapple in trucks (daily)
National permit 
lorry: 10 tonnes 
Taurus lorry 
15-18 tonnes
The average price
 received: F20/kg
Price needed by 
farmers: F28-30/kg
Excess quantity of pineapple (yearly)
 20,000 tonnes

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