Vanilla farmers yet to smell success

Kochi | Updated on October 15, 2018 Published on October 15, 2018

After hitting a record $600 per kg in 2017 owing to a lower crop caused by a cyclone in Madagascar, vanilla prices have stabilised in the global market, thanks to higher production in the tropical island and Indonesia.

Prices are now hovering in the range of $400-450, amidst rising demand for natural vanilla worldwide.

“Even at a $100 drop, vanilla cultivation is profitable for Indian farmers compared to $100/kg two years back,” R Mahendran, Managing Director, ExpoVan, and Indian Vanilla Initiative Pvt Ltd said. Major producing countries like Madagascar, which produces 80 per cent of the world’s vanilla, have gradually started ramping up their production from 2015 and the cro is expected to hit the markets this year. Quoting the US Customs data, he said the US/EU import price in July was $422/kg. As the producing countries are spreading out farming, prices are likely to decline further. But it will not go down to the level of $25/kg witnessed in 2007-08.

Flood-hit crop

In India, vanilla production was confined mainly to Kerala, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu as an intermittent crop and there are no official estimates to quantify the production figures. However, unofficial figures estimate it in the range of 30-40 tonnes on around 300 hectares vis-a-vis 2,500 tonnes of world production.

Given the scope for Indian vanilla in the overseas market, Mahendran said his company had set up a supply chain linking farmers and consumers by providing technical support as well as contracts for guaranteed buy-back at farm-gate price.

“For the last three years, we have signed up close to 1,200 farmers in Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and Kerala and they continue to expand with the aim of doing contract farming on approximately 1,000 hectares by 2020,” Mahendran said.

However, Joseph Sebastian, a vanilla farmer in Thankamony in Kerala’s Idukki district, pointed out that the recent rains and floods in the region had affected the crop, which may lead to a 50 per cent drop in production this year at an average of 15 tonnes.

He foresees a surge in prices as the yield will be lower even from the surviving plants due to the emergence of fungal disease, root rotting, root wilt, etc after the rains.

Revival in prospects

Natraj Hegde, Vanilla Development Trust, Udupi, was of the view that farmers are hardly deriving any benefits out of vanilla cultivation due to the absence of a research agency to work on the crop. It is not a major commodity and only few have taken up vanilla farming — that too as an intermittent crop.

Mohammed Faisal Peeran, Scientist, Plant Pathology, IISR, Madikeri, added that there is a revival in vanilla farming especially in the districts of Hassan, Uttar Kannada, Chikmagalur and Coorg. However, the shortage of planting materials is posing a problem, as the materials have to come mainly from Tamil Nadu.

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Published on October 15, 2018
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