The Fragrance of Success

The heady aroma of spices is one of the countless unforgettable memories that Kerala offers its visitors. The green plantations on misty hillsides laden with the earthy fragrance of cardamom and the sharp pungency of pepper have been one of the mainstays of Kerala’s economy since times immemorial. Spice traders were among the first to land on Kerala’s verdant shores. They carried back with them ships laden with spices. Centuries have gone by, but the trade in spices from Kerala continues.
Kerala’s Role in India’s Spice Trade: India is a heavyweight in the world spices trade. The country exports 0.30 million tons of spices annually to countries like USA, UAE, Germany, Japan, UK, Malaysia and Singapore. India controls 46 percent of the world trade volume and 23 percent of its value. Kerala is the leading producer and exporter of spices and produces the largest volume of pepper (96%), cardamom (53%) and ginger (25%). In 2006-2007, Kerala’s share in total pepper exports was more than 88 percent, thus establishing its dominance in this sector. Other exports from Kerala include turmeric, curry powder, nutmeg, vanilla, mace, oleoresins and spice oils.
New Spice Routes: The Kerala spice industry has a rosy future with rise in the demand for spices from new emerging segments like nutraceuticals. Yet another non-traditional way of growth has been the industry’s alacrity in exploiting the potential for spice tourism. This has helped spice plantations to maintain healthier bottomlines.
(i) Nutraceuticals and Spices: The nutraceutical sector in India has been registering impressive growth in the recent past. A report published by the CII indicates that by the year 2016, the nutraceutical market will be worth $2731 million and will grow at a compound annual growth rate of 13 percent. The report adds that the biggest opportunity lies in the area of herbal and dietary supplements. The spices industry in Kerala produces turmeric, black pepper and ginger which are in great demand in the nutraceutical industry. In addition, R&D in nutraceuticals has pushed up demand for spices like fenugreek which are useful in the treatment of diabetes. According to a report by the Spice Board, the growth of the nutraceutical industry has pushed up the demand for spices to such an extent that the country has been forced to import pepper, turmeric and ginger. The demand by the nutraceutical industry should help the spice sector in Kerala.
(ii) Tourism & Spices: One of the major problems faced by the spice industry has been the massive price volatility in the global market. This has hit the industry hard. However, the spice industry in Kerala has shown resilience and versatility in dealing with the situation by tapping the tourism market. Most plantations now offer home stay facilities to tourists. Activities available include plantation tours, nature walks, bird watching and trekking. The concept has caught the imagination of both domestic and foreign tourists who are looking for a quiet holiday which takes them off the beaten track. Alapuzzha and Idukki are two leading spice growing districts of Kerala and 80 percent of tourists arriving in these districts prefer to stay in spice plantations.
Adding Value to Kerala’s Spices: While spices have always been Kerala’s strength, the government is now keen on focusing more attention to value added products. In order to encourage the development of value added products by the industry, the government has pushed forward the concept of spices parks. The first spice park in the state was inaugurated in Puttadi, Idukki in 2011. Set up at a cost of Rs 28 crore, the park provides infrastructure and state-of-the-art processing facilities for pepper and cardamom. There are plans to set up more parks in order to boost the state’s spice industry.