Pepper prices have firmed up by ₹20 per kg for all varieties in the last three weeks, mainly on domestic demand ahead of the Holi festival and revival of industrial offtake.

The pepper procurement by The Campco Ltd, Mangaluru,cocoa from farmers in Kerala's Idukki and Kottayam districts has also aided the uptrend.

The rise in prices, currently hovering around ₹335-340 a kg, has cheered up the farming community. Holi will be celebrated on March 28.

Industrial demand has revived as economic activities have resumed with restrictions imposed to curb the spread of novel Coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic being relaxed.

Growers said that Campco’s move had helped to firm up prices when the local prices were hovering at ₹325. The company is procuring pepper with dust. Usually, the dust has to be removed if the pepper has to be traded at the auction centre.

B.Premji, Senior Manager (Pepper division), The Campco Ltd, told BusinessLine that the company had brought around 2,000 quintals of pepper since February 8 to support the farming community in a competitive environment. “We started the programme with areca nuts followed by cocoa, rubber and, later, pepper from 2016. Pepper procurement in Kerala has started from Idukki and Kottayam. By next year, we will enter Wayanad”, he said.

Kishore Shamji of Kishor Spices said arrivals at the auction centre have not picked up yet, though harvest has started in Idukki, Wayanad, Tamil Nadu and Karnataka.

The weekly offering is around 25 tonnes, and farmers are unwilling to part with their produce when prices are moving up. They are holding the stock, anticipating a further improvement in prices.

The availability of imported Sri Lankan pepper at ₹325-340 has also gone up considerably, and around 140 tonnes came for trading last week. Buyers were mainly inter-state dealers.

An official at the All India Spices Exporters Forum pointed out that pepper prices in Vietnam – a leading producer and exporter -- have also increased substantially, though the 2021 crop is still being harvested. Demand for Vietnamese pepper has been good from the US and China keeping the prices firm.

However, Indian pepper prices continue to be above other origins, and there is no parity. Hence, the export prospects for Indian pepper are dim this year, he said.

In the current offering, Shamji said the market has started receiving the most sought Rajakumari pepper from Munnar that is priced at ₹345-360. This is the preferred produce of select buyers whose grinding loss will be minimal while being converted into powder.

The solid berries make the powder pungent. Farmers pluck this particular variety only when it is fully ripe on the vines when the spikes turn red. The bulk density of Rajakumari pepper is 600 gm/litre, whereas it is 560-565 for normal ones, and its season starts from March.