Commerce ministry plans rescue package for vanilla farmers

Commerce ministry plans rescue package for vanilla farmers

Kochi: The government is planning to extend a Rs15-crore package, spread over three years, to encourage ice-cream makers in the cooperative sector to use natural vanilla. The objective is to is help farmers who have been finding it tough with prices of the crop dropping and unsold stocks piling up. Simultaneously, the health ministry is also actively considering the demand of the commerce ministry for mandatory labelling of the use of synthetic vanilla in various products.

The government’s trade promotion body, the Spices Board, began promoting the cultivation of vanilla early this century. Initially, farmers were treating vanilla as an inter-crop in the pepper, coconut and arecanut plantations, but they took to aggressive cultivation of vanilla as a mono-crop in 2003 when prices of green beans rose to around Rs4000 per kg following a cyclone in Madagascar, the major vanilla-producing nation. However, with the situation improving in Madagascar, prices have slumped to around Rs60 a kg. Now, farmers are saddled with 200 tonnes of cured and dried vanilla beans.

“The new measures are being considered in this backdrop," says Jairam Ramesh, minister of state for commerce, after holding talks with Spices Board officials in Kochi on Monday.

The commerce ministry has also requested the health ministry to make it mandatory to label the use of synthetic vanilla on the packaging. “The response has been positive and a decision is expected soon," said Ramesh.

Over 50,000 farmers involved in cultivating vanilla produced about 10,000 tonnes of green beans in 2006-07.

Since prices are low and farmers are unable to sell their crop, the commerce ministry, through the Spices Board, is planning to offer support to co-operatives such as the National Dairy Development Board in Gujarat and Milma in Kerala to buy this material for use in ice-cream making.

Presently, all ice-cream manufacturers use synthetic vanilla, which costs one-tenth the price of natural vanilla. Since manufacturers will be reluctant to do so, a proposal will be made to the finance ministry to support the ice-cream manufacturers in the co-operative sector.

India is a marginal player in the global vanilla market,which is dominated by Madagascar, Indonesia and Uganda.