Express news service
KOCHI: Known for its unique aroma and sweetness, Vazhakulam pineapple has become the main source of livelihood for locals. Its fame spread far and wide, attracting markets to cities in northern India and countries in West Asia. The registration of the GI has boosted exports and its high reputation has resulted in higher prices in the international market. However, as with any other crop, middlemen began to plunder profits by denying farmers the fruits of their labor.
Farmers complain that middlemen get pineapples at cut prices and sell them in the North Indian market at an exorbitant price. The state government has set the base price at Rs 15 per kg but the production costs are around Rs 23 per kg. Intermediaries set the price unilaterally and payment is irregular.
Meanwhile, the Vazhakulam Agro and Fruit Processing Company, established to help and support growers by making value-added products from pineapple, is unable to test the renovated plant because the farmers are not ready to sell their products to the company. With a 51% government stake, the company can only source fruit at the government-set base price of Rs 15, and farmers say selling the produce at base price will put them in the debt.
“Pineapple cultivation is labor intensive and we provide 170 days of work for agricultural workers. Considering the high cost of inputs, we should get at least Rs 23 per kg for green pineapple and Rs 30 per kg for fruit in order to make some profit. Intermediaries buy the fruits at Rs 15 and sell them at exorbitant prices on the North Indian market. Often times they don’t give the rate they are offering when buying, ”said James George, president of the Pineapple Farmers’ Association.
“The commissionaires are united and they distribute a raw market to the farmers by lowering the rate of supply. It is not easy to unite some 5,000 farmers to fight against exploitation. The government should raise the basic price and protect farmers from middlemen, ”he said. Farmers are unable to resist pressure from traders because pineapple is highly perishable and has a short shelf life.
“The normal shelf life is eight days and it takes four to five days to transport the fruit to Delhi and other markets in northern India. If we try to negotiate, all the product will perish, ”said one farmer. The body of farmers gave a representation to the Minister of Agriculture P Prasad requesting his intervention to revise the base price.
“Farmers should unite against the exploitation of middlemen,” said incumbent Kerala Congress President and former Union Minister PC Thomas. The middlemen get pineapples between 10 and 15 euros from farmers and sell them for 200 rupees to customers. The Union and state governments should support farmers and save them from exploitation, he said.
“Regular supply necessary for the operation of the company”
Representatives of the Keralam Vegetable and Fruit Promotion Council (VFPCK) and Vazhakulam Agro and Fruit Processing Company (VAFPCL) complain that farmers sell their products to middlemen when the market rate is high and protest against it. food processing company requiring purchases when the market rate is low. “If the base price set by the government is low, farmers have to settle it with the government. The agricultural processing company was started to help the farmers, but they refuse to sell their products to the company when the market rate is high. The business needs a steady supply of pineapples to operate, ”said VFPCK director K Sreekrishnan.
“We recently renovated the pineapple processing unit, but we were unable to complete the trial due to a lack of supply. We did two trials and advocated with farmers to get their supplies for the third trial. The unit can process 50 tons of pineapple per day and we need at least 250 tons to keep the unit running continuously. We have also installed a new pet bottle unit. Farmers prefer to sell the products to traders because they can offer higher prices. As a public sector unit, we can only source our supplies at the base price set by the government, ”said VAFPCL General Manager Shibu Kumar.