The `Pineapple Republic’ may find a place on the world map, if the Pineapple Mission being set up by the Kerala Government will have its way.

The mission, approved by the State Cabinet on Wednesday, is expected to give a big boost to the `Vazhakulam pineapple,’ which secured the GI (Geographical Indication) label in 2009. Vazhakulam in Ernakulam district, the pineapple heartland of Kerala, may go global as the mission plans to drastically increase exports.

Farmers and traders in the area hope that their product, known for its special flavour and extra sweetness, can take on Thailand, which is the world leader in pineapples. “The mission can facilitate a drastic increase in exports and build a global market for the Vazhakulam pineapple, like the Spices Board and Tea Board are doing to their products,” says Baby John, president of the Pineapple Farmers Association. Currently, export is limited to a few Gulf countries.

“Creating an international market for the product by building a brand image and strategically using the GI tag is one of our main objectives,” K.P. Kuriakose, special officer of the mission, told The Hindu. “Our core concern, of course, is coordinating production, processing, marketing and exporting.”

The 2012 State Budget had proposed the setting up of the Pineapple Mission and earmarked Rs. 1 crore for initial expenses. More than a year later, the Cabinet on Wednesday approved the memorandum of association of the mission. The Pineapple Farmers Association had in 2006 mooted the idea to the M.S. Swaminathan Committee on Farmers as such an agency could promote both production and exports. The Horticulture Mission, which catered to the needs of several crops, was thought to be less effective.

The GI advantage

Vazhakulam, jokingly referred to as the Pineapple Republic, has for long been associated with pineapple farming and trading. Of late, several neighbouring panchayats have jumped on the pineapple bandwagon.

The landscape is dotted with small and medium farms. And, Vazhakulam hosts the largest pineapple market in the country with scores of trucks from other States parked on the roads any time of the day waiting to be loaded. After the landmark GI tag, the fruit produced anywhere in Kerala is loosely referred to as `Vazhakulam’—though, technically, only those in 156 panchayats in Ernakulam, Idukki, Pathanamthitta and Kottayam, can claim to be `Vazhakulam.’

Mr. Kuriakose, who is a farm scientist specialising in pineapple, points out that less than one third of Kerala’s potential is currently used. “As long as there is rubber cultivation in Kerala, there will be pineapple cultivation too,” he said, referring to the fact that in most areas pineapple is raised as an inter-crop of rubber.

It was harvested year-round. He noted that the Vallarpadam container transhipment terminal had given high hopes of pineapple exports. Increasing the shelf life of the fruit, finding a range of use, edging the famers to go in for processing and world-class marketing techniques were the main challenges for exploiting the huge market potential.

Mr. John said last financial year Kerala produced Rs. 500 crore worth of the fruit. Currently, the farmer gets more than Rs. 37 a kg. The website informs the farmers about the prices on a daily basis.

Farmers and traders in the area hope that their produce an take on Thailand, the world leader in pineapples.