Farmers in Idukki are worried over the falling pepper prices as the harvesting season comes to a close. Labour shortage and costs have already affected their fortunes.

The average retail price of pepper has come down to Rs. 340 a kg from the Rs. 410 at the beginning of the season. At present, a farmer benefits only when the price reaches above Rs. 400. The price has fallen at a time when production has dipped in the main areas of pepper cultivation in the High Ranges. Farmers fear a further decline.

“The labour charge now is Rs. 400, and fewer labourers are available,” Prasannan Pulickamannil, a farmer at Chenninaikankudy, says.

There was a time when the labour charge was Rs. 5 and the price Rs. 25 a kg, he says. The productivity per hectare has fallen to nearly one-third of the figure three decades ago. The changes in climatic and soil conditions are a major factor that affected production, with fungal diseases fast affecting the plants. Thomas Kaniparambil, farmer, says re-planting of vines undertaken by the Spices Board has not helped increase the total area of cultivation.