Delegations of pineapple farmers from Kerala have visited the island country and are enthused by the conditions.
Farmers behind India's best known brand of pineapple in Kerala are looking to Sri Lanka for a new future, battered as they are by an unprecedented rise in labour and input costs.
While shortage of quality suckers threatens to bring down acreage under cultivation by 25 to 30 per cent in the new planting season, the price of grade A raw pineapple touched a record Rs.30 a kg on Tuesday at Vazhakkulam, the town near Kochi by whose name pineapple from Kerala is known across India.
The state produced about 3.25 lakh tonnes of pineapple last year from about 13,000 hectares under cultivation.
The Mauritius variety of pineapple from Kerala has conquered the Indian market centres such as Delhi, Mumbai and other metros and smaller cities. Its popularity, as the best suited for direct consumption, won Vazhakkulam Pineapple the GI registration in 2009, giving the business here a major boost.
Kerala fruit's quality helped steal a march over its counterparts from West Bengal and Odisha, establishing it as a premium brand since the early 1990s.
However, things have not remained rosy for the more than 2,500 farmers, says K. P. Kuriakose, a scientist with Kerala Agricultural University, who orchestrated the move to get GI registration for Vazhakkulam pineapple.
A combination of factors, including changes in the climatic conditions, had hit the farmers, who had adopted the best of farm management and business practices, said Dr. Kuriakose.
As a result, a hectare of pineapple farm now requires an investment of Rs.3.50 lakh. Production cost for the best quality pineapple is Rs.14 a kg, the price being pushed up constantly by rising spending on fertilizer and labour.
Bank loans have become too costly. A skilled labourer charges Rs.500 a day. Price of potash has gone up from Rs.6 a year ago to Rs.18 a kg and the cost of 20:20 fertilizer mix has gone up from Rs.7 to Rs.19 a kg, says Baby John, president of Pineapple Farmers' Association, which has a membership of 700 farmers with small and large holdings. These conditions have led the farmers to explore the possibility of migrating to Sri Lanka, where the production cost will be a quarter of that in Kerala. The soil conditions were fine and the government was willing to back the ventures, sources in the pineapple business said.
Delegations of pineapple farmers from Kerala have visited the island country in two batches and are enthused by the conditions. However, says Mr. John, marketing will be a problem as Sri Lanka is a small country that already produces pineapple to meet its domestic demand.