Jan 2018

‘Gherkin’ neither alien nor a forbidden fruit

 

It appears misconceived a write up to comfort the designated agents in the gherkin business. Neither it is an alien fruit nor ‘crimea’ has a larger role in this business. Leave alone bringing Russia and America together on a table to serve the cucumber pickles from India.

Indeed surprisingly the write up is a ‘turn-coat’ de-meaning the gherkin business from India. Anyone seeing the way the fruit is being handled from the picture would destroy the market for Indian gherkin. 

Cucumber as a fruit was grown and converted into a crop in the Himalayan region. Pickling cucumbers was native to India, very popular in olden days in the Gujarat (North/West) areas. Regrettably which narrowed from our food habits as in those days regarded as a ‘poor man’s food’. Perhaps I don’t have to explain this further; now remains a table vegetable. 

Prelude:

‘Pickling cucumber’ is a common terminology in the USA; Gherkins, Cornichons are the adopted names at different regions to suit their spoken language. Received as a pickle from India gherkins is the largest trading commodity from India next to tea and coffee!

When starting the crop in 1989 open pollinated American seeds were used for cultivation of gherkins. Now we have gynacious/monocious and parthenocarpic varieties dominating cultivation considering such characteristics as taste, density, yield etc.. so the purpose is to produce good pickle is the objective and indeed India has a great name for smaller size gherkin pickles processed; which has its presence globally in the super market shelves.  Barring tea and coffee may be Indian pickles for ethnic community the only processed food to find its presence in the developed world is pickled gherkins from the early 90’s. The situation now the pickle industry overseas would recognise the failing crop from India because of the damage to the business not knowing where to find the stock to replenish.

 

The Crisis: 

Weather driven crisis nothing new to the Indian farmers which effects entire gamut of the Industry, including countries economy would get distracted. Not only the export earning from gherkins would fail certainly has a narrowing effect on most large industries like fertilizer, tractor, trucks, motor cycles including consumer articles. We have seen regularly the weather effect on various crops largely from perishables like onion, tomato, all vegetable and pulses not that wheat and food crops are spared. 

It is preposterous to say gherkin cultivation made many a millionaire farmers. For certain some of the companies having engaged with facilitators and brokers made them rich and famous who is ridiculing the industry and the farmers in this news letter.

Like every other crop subscribing to the local lingua-franca they would re-designate or name a crop as it is convenient to them, may be medisauthekai or sauthekai or ‘gherkin’ as the educated conveniently came to understand the crop when they saw it pickled in bottles.

Don’t eat the harvest without washing or feed the waste crop without washing to animals, some of the thoughts are carried as medicine fruit to avoid any poisening from the drift of chemical sprays or may be from the soil itself. Why we exaggerating the various after effects is anyone’s guess; certainly it’s not the industries negative initiative!

 

Crop Production:

 It is a fact 1200 crores was the export value from 120,000 tonnes of crop production was the best, then 70% of the production was from Karnataka attributing 30% to Tamil Nadu. Andra Pradesh no where in the scene. Ever after crop found its entry into the present Telengana region they are trying the best in producing the same crop (on trellis in Karnataka and Tamil Nadu) converting into a ground crop which can never compare in quality with the crop produced from Karnataka. It is also true even the Tamil Nadu fruits does not match with the quality of Karnataka. This is fundamentally lacking in certain discipline of crop culture combined with heavy rainfall during particular season.

The best price of Rs.32/- offered to a premium grade which will have an average count of 220-240 fruits per kilo at the farm gate. The companies who has an agreement with the farmers would pick up the vegetable from the days harvest, at farm gate.

 This is an example for your knowledge but the contracting companies has exposure to many grades certainly not entire crop will end up harvesting 150/300 count. As the farmer say we ‘hear the gherkins grow’ as we walk the field. Such is the metaphor to say the 150/300 fruit is left unharvested would be Rs.8/- grade fruit the next day. So during the course of day’s harvest the farmer end up with 4-5 grades from the same day’s harvest which has a different pricing except when the fruit is left to grow predominantly a larger size like 10-20 fruits per kilo would provide for 2 grade harvest. Prices are certainly low for this harvest. Larger the size harvest poorer the returns to the farmer. That was the opportunity found in Indian gherkin, consistently the farmer’s could harvest over 60% of their crop in smaller sizes because of hand harvest. That was the window of opportunity to the Indian gherkin pickling community to push their product in global market as a raw material supplier for large brands overseas.

 

Market:

Smaller size clean green coloured gherkin, cylindrical fruit size, correct fruit density in effect to reduce hollow soft fruit are the minimum characteristics from the field. Avoid allergens and contaminants in all forms and shape, which is critical. But under our agricultural/field conditions a difficult area, arriving at the supply of clean deliverables to the importer. 

When addressed all these areas of concern to the importer yet they would not look at it as a clean commodity. Supply from India and the pricing is justified not from the point of view of selling price. Which certainly can’t be compared logically with the retailing prices in the bottles simply because over heads are high as observed from the companies like Unilever etc.. 

The Russian’s survive from Indian coffee or tea come heaven or hell. If the gherkin supplies was regulated that way by the suppliers, why are we blaming it on Crimea, Ukraine, Hungary, Germany etc.. The industry did not have sustainable market system in Russia neither they supported the trade when the currency slumped from the head wind. Global markets are such every passing year we encounter rise and fall in currency. In our fore thought we have to protect the business against such situations. Perhaps if we can find a good edging system there remains a solution but every industry has to encounter those upheavels.

 

Conclusion:

The agents or facilitator certainly not a value addition to the business. They bite the hand which feeds them, that is the company they are working for. Avoiding the agents and facilitators if the company can work directly with the farmers the extension cost would remain low with best of the services to the farmers recovering around 8-10 tonnes yield per acre. For good cultivation and best ground water management the farmer has to look up to micro irrigation. The contracting companies must provide for it because the government subsidies do not reach them. Red farmers and the debt we talk about are to the minimum I must emphasize less than 2% which remains in the cycle for recovery. If there can be a clear understanding with the banker to finance this debt in recovery cycle of one year but we must look at funding. 

Every crop needs constant care to maximum returns but gherkin needs the best because it is a short duration crop of 90 to 110 days giving the best returns to the farmer. Please note the farmer doesn’t invest anything on the crop except his land and services which is adequately paid for. Every crop input is provided at his door step which regrettably the agents and facilitators misuse.

APMC regulation has gone from the system but agents are a disgrace in every area of activity. If there is value addition form them so much of a honour of work but they have their sticky finger to feel the money in between an absolute disgrace within the system of contract farming. 

This write up supporting such agents, I am ashamed please would only a request with the ‘Hindu’ never to make such a humiliation of an industry which started and survived beautifully not to make a hash of it. With the FSSAI regulation hope inadequate manufacturing facilities would get closed down. The cover photograph is an absolute disgrace to the industry. If the writer thought if he has done a great service to the agent, the industry is humiliated would like to declare.

The gherkin industry would not become a billion dollar industry but certainly in its size and shape will remain a large support base to the honest and hard working farmers. Uncertainty loom in every aspects of life best confidence the way ahead is clear.  Much success of business, is in cost of delivery which juxta-pose, with the quality of product. “The winner is one who takes a good idea and pushes it faster than competition” to quote from some management thoughts.

 

B.M.DEVAIAH

File Photo of Cornell University Research Students visiting our factory for study who may also be interning with us.