Over 2,000 pineapple farmers of Kerala, fighting an outbreak of plant diseases and facing the prospects of losing up to a third of their crops this season, are a disappointed lot with the government still delaying the launch of Pineapple Mission, announced nearly two years ago.

Pineapple farmers have great expectations of the mission, which is yet to be registered, said Baby John of the Pineapple Farmers’ Association at Vazhakkulam, home to India’s best-known brand of fresh pineapples, which has also obtained the Geographical Indication registration.

He said that the budget announcement on the project came in 2012-13 and Rs.1 crore was earmarked for the mission, which was meant to address issues related to the holistic development of the business of pineapple farming.

Mr. John recalled that Finance Minister K.M. Mani had promised pineapple farmers in May this year to get the mission off the ground quickly. A special officer was appointed to work on the formalities for the registration of the mission.

However, there is yet no clue when the mission will be launched, says Noble John, director of Vazhakkulam Pineapple Growers and Processers Pvt. Ltd. He lamented that an institutional setup like the Pineapple Mission had failed to help farmers get compensation in times of crises like this season, when heavy rain damaged large areas under the crop.

Joseph Vazhakkan, Moovattupuzha MLA, however, is optimistic that formalities for registration of the mission will be completed in a week’s time. The papers are before the State Cabinet for its approval, he said on Saturday.

V. Pushpangadan, entrusted with the task of preparing for the launch of the mission said that paperwork for the project was under way and there was some technical difficulty last year in getting the money released.

The Pineapple Mission envisaged addressing all issues related to the business of pineapple in Kerala, which is worth around Rs.500 crore annually. The mission was meant to lay the ground for integrated development of infrastructure for growing and marketing pineapple grown across Kerala but concentrated in Vazhakkulam, Thodupuzha and Kothamangalam; in areas like Thiruvampady, Koodarinji and Thamarasserry in northern Kerala and in places like Kanjirappally, Mundakkayam and Erumeli, in the east.

Meanwhile, the pineapple market has firmed up, bringing some cheer to the farmers.

The price of the best quality ripe fruit was Rs. 45 a kg on Saturday; raw fruits sold for Rs. 35 and special raw pineapples sold for Rs. 38 a kg. The price is good and not unusual at this time of the year, said Mr. John. However, farmers are facing crop loss and an outbreak of stem rot and mealy bug-induced virus infection. Stem rot is caused by a soil-borne fungus during the rainy season. Excessive rain over the past two months has caused water-logging in many places and this has added to the gravity of the situation, said P.P. Joy, director of the Vazhakkulam Pineapple Research Station.

More than 90 per cent of the 2.5 lakh tonnes of pineapple produced in the State is eaten fresh and not processed or put into value addition.

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