International Trade of Spices: Challenges and way forward


Spices export from India is on a steady growth trend, breaking records every year. Export turnover has jumped from USD 500 million to USD 2000 million and from 300,000 MT to 550, 000 MT, over the last 6 years. The financial year 2011-12 period saw the export of 575, 270 MT valued at 9,783 crore (USD 2037 million), from India. India today, continues to be the leading producer, exporter and consumer of Spices in the World. India caters to 50% of the world’s spice requirement, in all its different forms – raw, powders, oleoresins, active ingredients and isolates.


This has been possible due to:

1) Increased demand for ‘natural’ foods and the growing awareness of the wholesome goodness in spices.
2) The joint & concerted efforts of Spices Board and Industry towards creating sustainable practices for spices in agriculture, technology and research.


Spices Board of India and Industry together has set a target of USD 10,000 million by 2020.

The industry is heartened and encouraged, by the constant support that Spices board of India has shown. The new scheme for Development of pepper in Waynad district of Kerala and North Eastern states was sanctioned by the Ministry during October 2009 and its implementation continued during 2011-12. Under re-plantation and rejuvenation programme an area of 3431.70 hectares has been covered in Waynad district and North Eastern states with an expenditure of 7.30 crore during 2011-12. The Board continued the implementation of pepper re-plantation and rejuvenation programme in Idukki district of Kerala, under the National Horticulture Mission programme and covered an area of 5294.37 hectares during the financial year.


Under Export development and promotion of spices, programmes/subsidies for adoption of technology in spice processing, setting up and up gradation of in house quality control lab, quality certification, sending business samples abroad, printing promotional brochure, setting up common infrastructure facilities for grading, processing, packing, warehousing etc., The Spices Park at Chhindwara, Madhya Pradesh and Puttadi, Idukki district of Kerala has been completed and are functioning. The setting up of Spices Parks at Guntur (AP), Sivagangai (TN), Jodhpur (Rajasthan), Kota (Rajasthan) and Guna (MP) are in progress.


The Indian Cardamom Research Institute of the Board continues its activities on crop improvement, crop management, crop protection, biotechnology, post harvest technology and transfer of technology.


Emphasis was given on programmes like mobile agri-clinic, issuing soil health card, production and supply of bio-agents like Trichoderma and Pseudomonas. Studies have been initiated on mechanization of pre and post harvest operations in Cardamom. Establishment of the Regional office and quality evaluation laboratory at Gummidipoondi, Chennai has been completed and inaugurated on 20.04.2012. The laboratory started the analytical work of samples under the mandatory sampling and testing of export consignments of notified spices that are exported through Chennai port. The quality evaluation laboratories of the Board located at Kochi, Mumbai, Guntur and Chennai analyzed total of 71,457 samples during 2011-12 for various parameters like pesticide residues, Aflatoxin, illegal dyes in chilli and chilli products and turmeric powder.


Industry has been battling all odds, in its individual capacity and also working together as associations such as the World Spice Organisation: a not-for-profit organisation that works for food safety and sustainability. WSO works very closely with several Indian and global spice associations. Collaboration is the spirit at WSO. The organisation works with the understanding that improvements if they should happen should be initiated at the farm level. Mentionable projects that the WSO has been involved in include – 1) raising of IPM (Integrated Pest Management) chilli in MP, which is not a traditional location for chilli cultivation, engaging farmer groups and exporters and tying up to give technical support to the farmer, 2) development of a nutmeg drier prototype for post harvest operations for use by small and medium farmers, 3) working with the Spices Board of India in proposing a codex committee for spices, 4) awareness programs on sustainable agricultural and post harvest practices.


Agriculture continues to be the backbone of the Indian economy, despite the tremendous growth in the manufacturing and services sector. Not to forget that agriculture is the single most important link to a ‘good’ tomorrow where everybody has food to eat.


According to UN estimates, the demand for agriculture produce will increase by 60 percent of the current level by 2030 and to meet this demand, agriculture production will have to increase by 40 percent. Spice and spice products are finding acceptance world over, not to forget their use in nutraceutical & pharmaceutical applications.

Our productivity has to increase and cost of production has to come down in order to compete with other origins like China and Vietnam. Even though, India’s bio diversity, advancements in research and development and technology are unparalleled, there are still many a lacunae that need to be filled before we can reach the target we have set for ourselves.


While the opportunities are growing for further growth, challenges and expectations are also mounting that need to be addressed jointly:


Farming: More area has to be brought under spice cultivation for which we need to identify suitable non-traditional areas and we should make sure the farmers are getting remunerative returns. Research activities will have to be linked to the business needs and develop varieties that are suitable for international markets and it is produced food safety using approved chemicals. Storage practices will have to under controlled climate including cold store and the wastage will have to be reduced at all stages. It is estimated that almost 30% of our farm produce are wasted due to poor hygiene and sanitation practices across the supply chain. Soil and water has to be conserved and all agricultural practices have to be environment and people friendly for sustaining the farming.


Post-harvest: Post-harvesting practices at farm level has to be improved with utmost care in food safety. The storage area has to be protected from pest and animal harbourage and from water seepage. The biggest enemy to any agriculture product is moisture thus the produce has to be kept absolutely with right moisture around 10-11% and without any moisture absorption from rain or seepage.

Processing: Utmost care has to taken at processing and manufacturing level. Products are exported either as whole, ground, cracked or in oils and oleoresin forms. All of these needs to first start with the primary cleaning to remove the physical impurities and various other value additions. As the value addition goes up to ready to use form, it need to be guaranteed to all physical, chemical and microbiological contaminants.


Value added Products: World is moving for ready to eat meal and it is necessary Indian industries improve in their investment in research and development of new products


Exportable surplus: One of the major constraints is to get the desired quality raw material. As the active ingredients of the spices acts either as flavour, colour, pungency or aroma, it is necessary we get all these active ingredients in the desired level that meets the customer requirements. Each spices has its active ingredients that adds colour, flavour and aroma and it is essential to retain these active ingredients right from farm till it reaches to the end user. This can be achieved only if we update and improve our research and technology to match with consumer preference. High Piperine content in Pepper, high curcumin in Turmeric and high Volatile oil in Cumin are some of the example. It is also observed that some of the flavours and aroma are getting lost due to soil depletion and continuous usage of Chemical Fertilizers and Pesticides. Agronomists also should therefore focus on sustainable agriculture program so that the traditional taste profiles are not lost in the process of intensive cultivation. Most importantly all producers should be well informed about he Good Agriculture Practices (GAP) and Sustainable Agriculture Practices (SAP)


Food Safety Regulations: Each of the countries has its food safety regulations that vary from country to country. These standards set by legislators are most of the time not science based thus it is practically not possible to adhere. But exporters are bound to follow these regulations otherwise they will have incur huge cost on product recalls. Spices that goes to Europe will have to be tested for 430 different kinds Pesticides and exporters should ensure the residue limits restricted within the residue limits specified (in most cases it is specified as 0.01ppm that is as good as Zero). It is therefore absolutely essential that we have a strict Integrated Pest Management (IPM) practices at farm level. WSO is taking active role in bringing Harmonized quality standards on Spices through Codex.


All the supply chain partners will have to collaborate and start working with the ‘farm’ in focus. The first and foremost, is the creating of awareness programs at farm level and facilitating the farmer to get an economic return by producing quality produce. Contract farming with buyback arrangement with exporters, is a tested model of operation that WSO now recommends. We look forward to a day when industry, farm, research houses, governments and the consumer work hand in hand to create wholesome, safe food to feed the world.

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