Cardamom, called the queen of spices, proved worthy of its title when it fetched a record price in the market this year and brought good tidings to Kerala farmers who are otherwise affected by the vagaries of the weather.
With the price hitting Rs 6,000/kg, cardamom growing areas saw people buying acres of farms and those who had turned to other crops returning to cultivate the green gold. Kerala’s reputation as the land of spices goes back at least 3,000 years. Here, Express delves into the aromatic world of spices with a special focus on Kerala.
Spice Garden of India
- Kerala is known as the spice garden of India. It is the largest producer of small cardamom. It is also famous for black pepper, clove, ginger, cinnamon and Malabar tamarind
- Though farmers with small holdings do cultivate spices, most of the produce comes from large plantations
- Traders from ancient Phoenicia made tours to Kerala to carry back spices to Mediterranean lands. Pepper, cardamom, cinnamon, ginger, cloves and more -- the spices were used to add flavour to food and wine and preserve meat during winters
- Apart from traditionally grown spices, Kerala farmers have taken to growing spices such as vanilla, oregano, rosemary, thyme, basil, mint, bay leaf and sage.
YIELD: WHY THE DROP
- In the case of pepper, ginger, turmeric, nutmeg and cardamom, there has been a decrease in productivity in the state due to adverse weather conditions like long dry spells and short periods of intense rainfall
- For cardamom, tropical, hot and humid climates are suitable. Ideal humidity level is 75%. For the past few years, Kerala has been receiving only 40% of its share of summer rainfall.
- A deficit of 60% seriously affected the yield
- The long dry spell, at a time when spiking and pollination need to happen, followed by heavy rain led to a drop in yield of both pepper and nutmeg. Flooding spelt doom for nutmeg plantations in major production centres like Ernakulam
- In the case of ginger, the huge disparity in market price and the cost of production saw many farmers ditching the crop. Ginger farmers from Kerala have shifted to Karnataka’s Western Ghats districts and Malenadu region. Ginger crop is disease-prone.
PRICE: WHY THE RISE
- The sudden spurt in cardamom prices has been due to the fall in production, says Dr Muthuswamy Murugan, professor and HoD, Cardamom Research Station at Pampadumpara in Idukki. “Due to adverse weather conditions, the production has fallen by 25% to 35%.”
- Production of green cardamom has fallen from 25,000 tonnes to 10,000 to 12,000 tonnes in the past few years.
- The average price of cardamom reached Rs 4,000 this season and it presently commands a price of Rs 2,900 to Rs 3,000 per kg.
- In the case of nutmeg and pepper, the price is holding steady though there is competition from imports.
EXPORTS: REASONS TO WORRY
- India has a 45% share in the global market for spices, but concerns over adulteration and excess pesticide use are posing a threat
- Several countries have already raised complaints – want India to ensure quality or lose business.
- According to Dr Muthuswamy Murugan, the export of spices, especially cardamom, will not see a surge in the future due to the huge amount of pesticides being used by farmers.
- According to Jojo George, MD, KCPMC Agrisolutions, the low exports have not hit spice traders. “The domestic market is robust and the huge demand in the country for small cardamom has kept the trade on an upward swing.”
Indian spices have been able to record huge gains in volume and value. Spice exports have recorded substantial growth in the past five years. During 2017-18, a total of 10,28,060 tonnes of spices and spice products valued at Rs 17,929.55 crore were exported from the country as against 9,47,790 tonnes valued at around Rs 17,600 crore during 2016-17 _ thus registering an 8% increase in volume.
Export figures of major spices in 2017-18
- 16,840 tonnes Pepper
- 5,680 tonnes Cardamom(small)
- 22,605 tonnes Ginger
- 1,07,300 tonnes Turmeric
- 5,500 tonnesNutmeg and mace