Doctor discovers bestselling vanilla prescription

This wonderful news comes to us from Coimbatore, India.

R Mahendran wears many hats; he is a doctor, a farmer and also a politician. What most people do not know is his journey to becoming the largest vanilla exporter of the country.

The ball was set rolling when Mahendran, then an internist returned to Pollachi which is about 50 km from Coimbatore after completion of his MD. This took his family by surprise. Mahendran says, “I wanted to farm. In Pollachi, I could pursue both. I took control of my family’s 35-acre coconut grove. My first endeavor was to increase income from Rs 20,000 per acre per year to Rs 1 lakh per acre. I opted for multi-cropping using coconut trees as a shade house and chose perennial crops-cocoa, nutmeg, and vanilla.  In eight years income per acre was Rs 1 lakh. It doubled in another eight.”

Till then no one had engaged in commercial vanilla cultivation. The farmers of Tamil Nadu, Kerala, and Karnataka all descended on this new cash crop in hordes. Mahendran was among the first to venture into vanilla cultivation way back in 1992. His moment of truth came when there was a crash in global vanilla prices which led farmers to migrate to other crops. But Mahendran stuck to his guns and tried to look for ways to insulate his farm from a market that was very volatile. Mahendran tried vanilla processing and also stabilizing the price of green vanilla for his produce and that of other farmers too.

Since 2004 Mahendran has been exporting processed vanilla beans. Today, Mahendran’s firm Expovan processes and exports more than 90% of green vanilla produced in India to the select and best flavor houses around the world. He says that the key to success is the ability to convert produce into the product. Mahendran promises farmers Rs 250 per kg for green vanilla. This calculates to Rs 1 lakh per acre. Recently global prices went up and his firm paid Rs 5000 per kg to farmers, which is 20 times the minimum price.

Mahendran says that he has totally cut out middlemen and that has served to cement his relationship with farmers. He says that his next target is to double the turnover of his firm from Rs 250 crore to Rs 500 crore by 2023. “We are almost halfway on that journey.”

Image Source: The Pollachi Papyrus

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