Black Pepper cultivation In Kerala

Black pepper(Piper nigrum L.), the king of spices, belongs to the family Piperaceae. Black Pepper is one of the most ancient and traditional spice crops of India which has been produced and traded worldwide. Black pepper is native to South Asia and Southeast Asia, and has been known to Indian cooking since 2000 BCE. Its most important source was India, particularly the state of Kerala. The lost ancient port city of Muziris in Kerala is famous for exporting black pepper. According to the 2019 study Ethiopia and Vietnam were the largest producers of black pepper around the world.and India comes fifth. The major portion of black pepper production in the country is accounted by Kerala and Karnataka. In the country, Kerala accounts for 75 percent of the total production of black pepper.

According to the studies(2018),in terms of area (42694 Ha) and production (25495tonnes) Idukki district stands first followed by Wayanad district with area (12498Ha) and production 6593tonnes). Alappuzha district is the least pepper producing district in terms of area and production n Kerala

Soil and Climate

Black pepper is cultivated to a large extent in Kerala, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu among that Kerala accounts a major potion. Black pepper plants need humid tropics with high rainfall and humidity. This crop tolerates temperatures between 10 and 40 degree Celsius and a well distributed annual rainfall of 125 to 250 cm. It grows successfully between 20 degree north and south latitude and from sea level up to 15000m above the sea level. Black pepper can be grown in a wide range of soils with a Ph of 5.5 to 6.5.

Peculiarities of black pepper plants

Black pepper plants belong to the family of Piperaceae is an evergreen plant whose scientific name is piper nigum. The pepper roots in its vines spread to the nearby support trees and it grows in to the top of that. According to the length of the support trees it can grow up to 10-20 m height. But it’s better to cut when it reaches 3 or 4 meter, to collect the pepper corns (it’s harder to collect pepper corns when it reaches the top). One pepper plant can live up to 25 to 30 years.

Plant varieties

More than 70 types of plants are present in Kerala and among that 10 of them were popular which are Karimunda, Kotanadan, kuthiravali, Poonjar munda, Arakkulam munda, Narayakodi,,Balankota, Kalluvally, Thevermundi,  and Ayimbiriyan.  Apart from this the Panniyur pepper research centre under the Kerala Agricultural University has developed many more improved varieties starting from Panniyur- 1 to Panniyur -5  and Subhakara, Sreekara, Panchami, Pournami and PLD-2. Plant should be selected according  to the soil type and climate, not all plants grow in all type soil.

Preparation of saplings

Propagation of black pepper plants can be done by cutting branches from fully grown well nurtured black pepper plants. Those cuttings should be selected very carefully. The plants for cuttings should be free from any other diseases or wilt, it’s better to cut the saplings in October – December months where it’s fully fruited at that time. Saplings can be collected from a height of 70 to 80 cm from the root area. After collecting the cuttings they must be wrapped around a tree trunk without allowing it to spread in to the ground.  The cuttings thus collected can be directly planted under the support trees, but its not worth any profit if we are doing it commercially, where most of the plants will be destroyed in this way. So it’s recommended to plant the cuttings after rooting. Rooted cuttings can be planted near the support trees so that t can spread to the support trees. (rooted plants can be developed by planting it in polythene bags). June- July months most suited for planting black pepper plants. Rapid multiplication is also used for producing more saplings.

Support Trees

Traditionally, The Indian Coral Tree (Murikku) is the best support tree for black pepper farming.Our ancestors used this tree to propagate black pepper. this was once seen everywhere where there is black pepper cultivation like the regions of (wayanad, idukki)kerala, karnataka. This tree is one of the best thing we could give to a black pepper plant as the support tree itself will provide the essential nutrients for the plant.In addition to that concrete pillars, stone pillars, pvc pipes, thek wood etc, are also used as support trees. But they are not affordable for common people as it costs much more. So the  most common and budget friendly support trees used in Kerala include grey downy balsam, silver oak and Indian coral trees. There for Indian coral trees are considered as the friends of farmers.

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