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  Business   In Other News  22 Sep 2017  Vietnam takes the spice out of India’s curbs on pepper

Vietnam takes the spice out of India’s curbs on pepper

THE ASIAN AGE. | SURUCHI KAPUR GOMES
Published : Sep 22, 2017, 3:03 am IST
Updated : Sep 22, 2017, 3:03 am IST

Lankan pepper takes Vietnam route to India, Vietnam exports coffee to India via Colombo.

Pepper has seen a steep decline in prices over the past sometime.
 Pepper has seen a steep decline in prices over the past sometime.

Bengaluru: A concerned family of pepper planters from Karnataka’s Chikmagalur District are helplessly watching Indian pepper prices diminish, after bearing the brunt of an already decreasing coffee price.

Karnataka is the leading producer of pepper (it just took over from Kerala as the highest producer), with India’s domestic demand for pepper increasing at four per cent per annum.

Pepper, needless to say, had many hopes pinned on it. But today, this black gold is being sold at `350 to `450, a steep decline of around `300, which for the ordinary farmer, is sounding a death knell.

The steep decline in pepper prices in India is due to direct imports from Sri Lanka, which are priced lower, and of inferior quality. It appears that Vietnam is to blame as pepper is now being rerouted through the Saarc ally — Sri Lanka — from Vietnam to India.

According to norm, imports from Sri Lanka carry an 8 per cent duty under the bilateral agreement, thus India is allowed to import 2,500 tonnes from Sri Lanka, but the number has now crossed 3,000 tonnes according to sources, causing Indian pepper prices to decline drastically.

Most of Vietnam’s coffee is imported by Sri Lanka, and rerouted to India, feel many pepper planters.

Dinesh MJ from Mudigere, a coffee and spice grower, promoter and director of Black Gold League, an organisation that trains pepper farmers from nursery to harvesting, says, “There are loopholes in the import policy that have been taken advantage of for this particular import. Most traders are importing inferior pepper, and their residue is not tested, which damages our quality of produce.

“As most pepper growing nations grow mono-crop cultivation, they get higher yields. India on the other hand, is different in that it is maintaining eco friendly shade trees for cultivation. We grow multiple crops and hence get moderate yields, of better quality.”

Coffee and pepper planter and former chairperson of the Karnataka state women’s commission, Philomena Peris is shocked at this disregard for rules, and gives us a back story into the history of the tiny famed Indian spice, “Pepper originated in India. For centuries, different countries have had pepper trade with us, including England, who set up the East India Company back in the day for the purpose of trade.

“Vietnam has destroyed jungles to grow pepper as mono culture. The Indian growers, in contrast, grow pepper in a multi-crop pattern which is ecologically superior. To grow pepper in India is an expensive proposition as growers have to incur huge expenditure on fertilisers, sprays, etc.

“If prices reduce any further, growers in India will neglect this historical crop that is imbibed in our identity. Thus pepper vines will deteriorate, and no longer be profitable,” said Philomena Peris.

Mr Dinesh feels that the government should protect growers with strict policies, increasing taxes on imports, and conducting quality checks on all parameters.

“Allow the crop to single port in India, as is done with arecanut importers. We have already requested the government of Karnataka and India to set up a Pepper Park at Chikamagalur so that we can work on an auction centre and research on value-adding,”  Mr Dinesh explained.

Cheap pepper imports from Vietnam are already under the scanner of the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) for suspected contamination. The Spice Board too has recommended a ban on imports due to quality concerns.

According to Spice Board statistics, the year 2012-13, pepper production was at 65,000 tonnes which has decreased significantly to 55,500 tonnes in 2016-17.

“Vietnam Pepper comes to India via Sri Lanka. Since India has WTO   trade treaty with Sri Lanka, dumping Vietnam pepper through Sri Lanka is illegal.

“The central government has to take strong action against this import. It is then that Indian growers will garner better prices, and will be able to grow pepper and reap profits,” explains Philomena Peris.

For now though, a historical tradition, originating in the famed Indian spice route is endangered, and in danger of losing its rich legacy.

Tags: pepper, coffee price