Kochi: The ministry of commerce has asked for all aspects related to pepper production, development and marketing be put under the Spices Board, a government promotion body.

The board is involved only in marketing and export of pepper while the departments of horticulture or agriculture under state governments are primarily responsible for pepper cultivation, production and productivity enhancement. Meanwhile, all the research is carried out by the Indian Institute of Spices Research (IISR) at Kozhikode in Kerala which reports to the Indian Council for Agriculture Research which, in turn, is under the aegis of the agriculture ministry.

Seeking cooperation: In a letter to agriculture minister Sharad Pawar (left), minister of state for commerce and power Jairam Ramesh has said a year-old programme for large-scale replantation and rejuvenation of pepper plants has failed even as a similar programme for tea, coffee and rubber is carrying on. Gregorio Borgia / AP and Manan Vatsyayana / AFP

“We have not been able to implement a similar and focused programme for pepper. The reason for this is very simple. The Spices Board has a single point responsibility for all aspects relating to cardamom alone," Ramesh said.

“It is necessary to make a single agency, i.e. the Spices Board, accountable for production, processing and marketing, if the Indian pepper industry has to regain its glorious position." The board is under the jurisdiction of the commerce ministry and in 2006 was named one of the agencies for the implementation of the National Horticulture Mission for pepper replantation under the 11th Plan for 2007-2012.

The commerce ministry has proposed an investment of Rs1,000 crore over 10 years, half of which will come from the Union government, and the rest from respective state governments and farmers.

The ministry has also proposed placing Rs50 crore annually at the disposal of the board and not the state governments, Ramesh wrote. Under the present scheme, any amount for the programme is to be given to the horticulture or agriculture department of the state government.

Indian pepper, already facing an estimated 5,000-10,000 tonnes shortfall in production this fiscal, is likely to face further challenges from low-cost producers such as Vietnam once India signs a free trade agreement with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, or Asean, on 17 December.

The agreement provides for a progressive reduction of 2% duty annually, which will bring down the duty from 70% to 50% by 2018.

Cardamom and pepper are cultivated under the same conditions, especially in Wayanad and Idukki districts of Kerala. Pepper is now also grown in a big way in the coffee estates in Karnataka.

Ramesh also wrote that the board, which has taken up cardamom development programme, is in a position to provide extension services to pepper as well.

The letter pointed to the discrepancy in attention to cardamom and pepper: the board has allocated Rs92 crore for programmes associated with cardamom but only Rs2 crore for pepper during the 11th Plan.

As most of the farmers in the area are cultivating pepper and cardamom, the implementation of a comprehensive programme for pepper by the board will provide synergy and improve the delivery services to at least 500,000 small farmers, Ramesh wrote.

Mint could not immediately ascertain how Pawar will respond to the request.