Vazhakulam, the ‘Pineapple Republic’ in Kerala’s Ernakulam district, has a little problem with the term ‘shelf life’.
The pulpy sweetness and lingering aroma of the GI-tagged pineapples that the area produces in millions do not last for more than ten days.
Hence, the world outside India doesn’t get to enjoy the extraordinary taste of the Vazhakulam Pineapple.
To beat the short shelf life of its produce, Vazhakulam — the hub of pineapple farming and trade — is looking for investors and food-processing entrepreneurs to make value-added, packaged pineapple products.
“We welcome food-processing companies — start-ups or multinationals — to come to Vazhakulam and set up pineapple processing and exporting units,” said Jose Kalappura, President of the All Kerala Pineapple Farmers Association.
Price fluctuations Kalappura points out that nearly 90 per cent of the 300-plus-tonne ‘Vazhakulam Pineapple’ produced a year in around 12,000 hectares is consumed as fruit.
The short shelf-life of the fruit is a big handicap as the farmers cannot hold their harvest for better prices.
The result is drastic fluctuations in the price So, process or perish was an existential dilemma for the sector.
A three-day ‘pineapple fest’ held at Vazhakulam recently by the stakeholders saw them decide to go in for a global branding.
For this they decided to focus on processing the fruit to produce a range of value-added, bottled or packaged food products that would stay on the shelf for months on end.
“We will soon call a meeting of food manufacturers to motivate them to set up pineapple processing units here,” Kalappura told BusinessLine .
“Processing and value-addition is the way to go for the pineapple sector,” Ismayael Rawther, Director of the Pineapple Mission, noted. “The Vazhakulam pineapple has the potential to secure a huge market in the Gulf and Europe.”
Currently, because of the short shelf life and bottlenecks in shipping, the fruit gets rotten by the time it reaches overseas markets, he notes.
Expanding cultivation The Vazhakulam pineapple, which is basically the Mauritian variety, is now cultivated across Kerala by enterprising farmers from Vazhakulam and nearby areas.
Following the Geographical Indication tagging in 2009, cultivation has expanded and more than 12,000 hectares are now under cultivation. The Vazhakulam Pineapple has essentially been an inter-crop on young rubber plantations.
“Generally, farmers lease young rubber plantations for cultivation,” says Antony Vettiyan, who now has around 170 acres of pineapple in Kollam district. “You can raise pineapple in re-planted rubber estates for three to four years.”
The decline in rubber prices has led to increased availability of rubber plantations for pineapple.
Vettiyan said wild price fluctuations were the biggest enemy of the farmer. “The current price of ₹20/kg for raw fruit and ₹22 for ripe are okay,” he said.
“The recent slide in orange prices hit us really bad because they brought down pineapple prices also.”
He said the current average cost of a kg of pineapple was around ₹18. Labour is the principal cost.
“We almost fully depend on migrant labour from Orissa and West Bengal,” Vettiyan said. “On average, two workers are required for one acre of pineapple year around.”
Vettiyan hopes that processing of pineapples and manufacturing of value-added products will bring higher returns to the farmer.