Pepper farmers have sought the intervention of the Spices Board in ensuring the procurement of spices and marketing it to processors, dealers and end-users to meet the industry requirements.

They point out to the curbs on aggregators and dealers of spices, especially in Idukki and Wayanad, who are not permitted to open their shops during the lockdown. The State Industries department has permitted processing units to function, as spices fall under the food industry and are export related. However, the processing units are finding difficulties in meeting the domestic demand from masala manufacturers without the availability of raw materials.

Kishore Shamji, Co-ordinator of Indian Pepper & Spice Traders, Growers, and Planters Consortium-Kerala Chapter, said the re-opening of educational institutions in June forces farmers and planters to liquidate their pepper stocks during the last weeks of May till the middle of June to encash their produce to meet the educational needs of their wards. Though raw materials from the primary market are permitted to be transported, how can the spice dealer get the spices and market it without procuring the commodity.

The lockdown has also hit pepper arrivals to the terminal market in Kochi with hardly any consignments reaching for the trading sessions in the past one week. The higher demand has boosted the prices, registering a ₹12/kg increase, touching ₹382 for ungarbled and ₹402 for garbled varieties as on Saturday, he said.

The Consortium also urged the Spices Board to inquire into the reports of higher imports of Sri Lankan pepper under SAFTA at MRP ₹500 per kg. The farming community also questioned the marketing of this imported stuff into the domestic market at ₹375 per kg by incurring a loss of ₹150. There are also allegations that bolder pepper berries are being sieved out from the imported consignments moved to EOU’s and SEZ’s and sold out in the domestic market under the brand of Tellichery Extra Bold at fancy premium prices, Shamji said.

The Board should address all these matters to DRI, Customs and RBI as well as DGFT for taking appropriate action as it violates FEMA rules, he said.

According to him, Sri Lankan pepper production was very low when the SAFTA agreement was signed. Today, the production in the island nation stands at 25,000 tonnes, he said quoting the International Pepper Community report 2021.

However, small and medium farmers in India are not getting any proper returns from pepper farming because of the production cost, which is higher compared to all other producing countries.