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Bageshree S.

KSDL yet to `quantify the benefit' of GI tag

  • The Government Soap Factory was established by Nalwadi Krishnaraja Wadiyar in 1916
  • Depleted sandalwood reserves force factory to work to 25 per cent of its capacity to produce oil

    Bangalore: The cultural memory of Old Mysore carries with it the unmistakable whiff of sandalwood. And for those of us not lucky enough to smell it in the wild, it comes neatly packaged by Karnataka Soaps and Detergents Limited (KSDL) as Mysore Sandal Soap and Mysore Sandalwood Oil.

    In tiny print next to the Sharabha emblem, every Mysore Sandal soap carton carries a message "Srigandhada tavarininda" (from the maternal home of sandalwood). In fact, it is this unique link between the location of production and the ecological and cultural resonance they carry that has won KSDL proprietary Geographical Indication (GI) tag on these two products. Though the company is yet to "quantify the benefit" of GI tag in the international market, it now finds a mention on the soap cartons.

    The market share of Mysore Sandal Soap in the mammoth toilet soap market is not big. But what gives this product an edge is its rich legacy that dates back to 1916. The Government Soap Factory was established by Nalwadi Krishnaraja Wadiyar, on the advice of Diwan Sir. M. Visvesvaraya, in 1916. Interestingly, because Mysore Government had excessive sandalwood reserves during the First World War when the State could not export to Europe. The factory was renamed KSDL and incorporated as a company in the year of Karnataka's reunification.

    Today, while Mysore Sandal Soap, the only one in the world to be made out of 100 per cent sandalwood oil, is still strong in terms of its historical and cultural legacy, it is struggling to survive in a highly competitive market, with sandalwood getting scarce and prices soaring. What's also working to its disadvantage is it image as a south India soap with a loyalty among the post-40 age group.

    It was in an attempt to give it a youthful feel that the company roped in flamboyant cricketer M.S. Dhoni to be its brand ambassador. This stuck some as a blasphemy, considering that Dhoni, from Jharkhand, shares the company's initials but not its GI image. But people at KSDL argue that GI tag should act as value addition rather than something that binds the product down to a straightjacket image in the global market.

    What is happening, in the meanwhile, to the principal ingredient of Mysore Sandal soap Mysore sandalwood oil is not very heartening.

    While the factories may owe their origin to surplus sandalwood production in Karnataka, the sandalwood reserves in the State are so depleted today that KSDL works to only 25 per cent of its capacity to produce oil, which is worth Rs. 50 lakh to Rs. 60 lakh annually.

    Hit by severe shortage of sandalwood, KSDL has had to participate in auctions in Tamil Nadu and Maharashtra for wood. It once considered importing wood from even Australia, which now has vast sandalwood farms.

    The absence of a sustained sandalwood regeneration programme has a taken a big toll on sandalwood reserves in Karnataka. This is a great irony in a State that once set up factories to use up its excessive reserves and wears two GI tags on its sleeve on account of its historic association with the precious wood.

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