After a decade of strong presence in the agriculture sector of Kerala, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu, vanilla cultivation is fast depleting in India. According to the latest projections by farmers from these states, this year’s total production would be roughly 25 tonnes, 90 per cent less than the 260 tonnes last season. Karnataka is expected to have the highest beans output of 10-15 tonnes, while five tonnes are expected from Kerala.
Ten years ago, a large number of farmers in Kerala and Karnataka had shifted widely to vanilla cultivation, thanks to the huge demand from abroad and a whopping increase in prices. During the 2001-04 season, the average production increased to 1,200 tonnes, as one kg of green beans fetched over Rs 3,500 in the global markets.
The continued crop failure in Madagascar, the world’s largest producer of natural vanilla, resulted in a paradigm shift in the agriculture practices of these southern states. At that time, the total vanilla planted was about 1,000 hectares. During the 1999-2000, the area under vanilla cultivation globally was 37,525 hectres with a total production of 4,403 tonnes. After Madagascar, the major producing countries are Indonesia, Mexico, Comoros, Tahiti and Seychelles.
M C Saju, director, Vanilla India Producer Company Limited (Vanilco), a farmer initiative constituted to market the processed beans, told Business Standard that vanilla is now being grown in some parts of Kannur and Wynad districts in Kerala. “We can’t quantify the acerage now, as this is being cultivated in fragmented, small areas.” The situation is the same in Karnataka and Tamil Nadu, he added.
Most farmers abandoned this on lack of demand for natural vanilla and a heavy drop in prices. One kg of synthetic vanilla costs only Rs 600-700, while one kg of natural vanilla extract (vanillin) costs over Rs 20,000. This huge difference in prices has upset the global natural vanilla market.