Vanilla farming regains flavour amid dropping prices

V.Sajeev Kumar | | Updated on: Apr 12, 2022
Vanilla is predominantly an export crop

Vanilla is predominantly an export crop

Even at $150-200 per tonne, farmers see vanilla cultivation as a viable business proposition

After hitting a record high a few years ago, vanilla prices have started softening and remained flat in the range of $150-200 in the last six months, thanks to rising production across countries.

Traders pointed out that Madagascar – which accounts for 80 per cent of the world’s vanilla production – was back in farming after a lower yield a few years back due to climatic issues. Besides, countries such as Indonesia, Uganda, Mexico, Tanzania and India are also active in production. This has paved the way for more availability of the crop, facilitating drop in prices to $150-200, from $550 per tonne five years back. The downward trend is expected to continue for some more time.

Even at these price levels, vanilla cultivation has turned out to be a viable business proposition for farmers, said Joseph Sebastian, a vanilla farmer in Thankamomy, Kerala’s Idukki district. The Covid pandemic has also played its part in stabilising prices because of the subdued demand for confectionery products, in which vanilla is a major ingredient.

Labour availability

Vanilla is predominantly an export crop and its domestic usage is very minimal. The industry mainly uses synthetic vanilla, not the natural one, for applications in the food industry and cosmetics, he said.

However, the labour intensity of the crop forced farmers to turn away from vanilla cultivation as it requires manual pollination of flowers. Labour shortage in earlier days and price volatility discouraged farmers. But now, there is an encouraging response from the farming community towards vanilla. This is mainly because labour shortage has been resolved with the return of migrant workers after the Covid pandemic. Covid had disrupted all agriculture activities in the high ranges, he said.

Multi-crop system mooted

S Aarathi, Scientist (Horticulture) at Indian Institute of Spices Research, Kozhikode, said that more farmers, especially in Wayanad, Kannur, in Kerala’s northern district, were evincing interest in vanilla cultivation, which is evident from the enquiries seeking details on manual pollination that requires manpower and technical skill. IISR is providing them with video links while offering support for planting vanilla. Earlier, vanilla was a neglected crop in the northern part of the State because of the loss sustained due to price fluctuation. But its higher rates vis-a-vis other crops have given farmers some hope.

“We have suggested vanilla cultivation by way of multi-crop system rather than a mono crop culture, which will minimise loss and garner additional income”, Aarathi said.

Quoting figures from the Directorate of Areca Nut and Spices Development (DASD), she said vanilla production in India in 2020-21 was 67 tonnes in 147 hectares. In 2019-20, it was 60 tonnes on an area of 91 hectares. The production was confined mainly to Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Karnataka.

Published on April 12, 2022
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