Thursday, June 27, 2019


India’s spice exports merely 10%, accounting for 40% of global exports
Monday, 05 February, 2018, 08 : 00 AM [IST]
Bhavit Pant and Mrinalini Prasad
India is the largest producer and consumer of spices in the world today. Of the total volume of spices produced in India, only 10 per cent is exported. However, this constitutes 40 per cent of the global exports for all spices.

As such, India has a unique position in the global spice industry. Spices continue to be a significant part of the country’s economy. However, as a largely agrarian country, India is faced with an immediate, at the root-of-it-all challenge – sustainability.

The scenario of Indian agriculture today is not sustainable – soil health is depleting, water resources are degrading and becoming increasingly more contaminated by the indiscriminate use of agrochemicals and farmer livelihoods are severely and adversely impacted by climate change and diminishing returns.

Sustainability challenges in the Indian spice sector
The Indian spice industry has made some progress towards a more sustainable future in recent years, especially in integrated pest management (IPM) and maximum residue limit (MRL) compliance focused on the export market, but there is still much to be done.

One of the key issues affecting sustainability in the sector includes the overuse of agrochemicals, which has an environmental as well as a social impact.

The challenges with respect to these include the irresponsible use of pesticides, the use of illegal substances, a lack of protective equipment leading to human health hazards, the improper disposal of chemicals and water contamination.

The overuse of agrochemicals leads to high residue levels which, in turn, lead to the rejection of products and high costs for importers.

Besides, improving farmer livelihoods is also a major issue in the agricultural sector, including spices.

In India, the spice sector makes a vital contribution to the economy and to the livelihoods of millions of small-scale farmers.

About 98 per cent of the spice production in India is by small-scale farmers, who typically farm less than two hectare and seasonally rotate the growing of spices alongside other crops.

Low and insecure farmer incomes, difficulties in accessing markets, limited access to health care and education and limited collective bargaining power are some of the social and economic challenges faced by small-scale farmers in the sector.

Further, it also faces labour challenges such as child labour, poor working conditions and a lack of written agreements with the workers.

Sustainable Spices Initiative (SSI)
The Sustainable Spices Initiative (SSI) was established and convened by IDH (Sustainable Trade Initiative ( in 2010 to bring together international spice producers, processors, blenders, food manufacturers and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) to accelerate sustainability in the spices sector, and thereby secure a future supply of sustainable spices for the international industry, boost economic growth in producer countries, and improve livelihoods of hundreds of thousands of small-scale spices farmers.

SSI supports the benchmarking and implementation of sustainability standards in the spices sector. It also co-funds pilot projects, distributes best practices and learnings and develops cost-efficient models to mainstream and scale-up pilot projects.

The Sustainable Spices Initiative India (SSI-I), a part of the global SSI programme, is an industry-led voluntary multi-stakeholder platform established as a Section 8, not for profit organisation that provides a comprehensive and ambitious framework to overcome the challenges of sustainable sourcing in the spice industry, while improving the livelihoods of producers and giving consumers – both locally and globally – increased access to sustainable, food-safe spices.

By participating in SSI-I, farmers benefit from lower input costs, better managed farms, potential for higher incomes and a more sustainable future.

Food manufacturers, buyers and retailers will benefit from a higher-quality product, a more sustainable source of supply, greater supply chain transparency and a more cost-effective means of improving farming practices.

Using the momentum and drive of the private sector and agencies such as the government, SSI-I pulls together different areas of convergence to scale the impact of smaller sustainable agriculture initiatives in the space.

The key immediate priority for sustainable spices production is food safety. Sustainable spices must be compliant with MRL requirements in relation to pesticide residues. For farmers, this means reducing overuse of agrochemicals to diminish pollution, mitigating health and safety risks and avoiding agrochemical residues on the product.

The SSI-I programme principles include:
  • Responsible agrochemical management
  • Water management
  • Smallholder inclusion and profitability
  • Gender empowerment
  • Living wages and improved working conditions
SSI-I approach aim
Good for farmers

By learning and implementing good food safety and agricultural practices, farmers will benefit from better-managed farms, reduced input costs, more sustainable production and improved incomes.

Good for the spices sector
For food manufacturers, retailers and others in the industry, supporting the goals of the SSI-I will enable them to meet food safety requirements, reduce supply and reputational risks, and provide assurance to their customers that they offer safe, high-quality and sustainable products.

SSI-I Sustainable Agricultural Practices (SAP)
SSI-I works with NGOs as implementation partners (IP), which are co-funded by private and public players, to implement scalable projects that drive the adoption of SAPs for spice production by participating farmers.

There are five core components of SAPs for spices production, on which the farmers are trained:

Food safety
A key requirement for participating farmers is that spices meet pesticide residues and food safety requirements.

Community development and well-being
Community development is a process where community members come together to take collective action and generate solutions to common problems. This type of collective action, undertaken at a grassroot level, ranges from small initiatives within a small group to large initiatives that involve the broader community.

Optimum available resource management
This involves optimising resource systems, through appropriate management practices, to enable users to maximise the economic, environmental and social benefits from limited available resources whilst maintaining or enhancing the ecological support functions of the same resources.

Proactive farming systems
The primary objective of proactive farming systems is to develop farmers as businessmen with a focus on improving productivity, increasing profitability, ensuring sustainability, guaranteeing ethical working conditions and an equitable distribution of the results of production, such as labour wages.

Value addition activities
The focus is on unlocking innovations that enhance livelihoods and embed sustainability within the farming system.

Boosting exports
While the focus on food safety through IPM is considered imperative for the export market, there is a lack of uniform vision and initiative towards a countrywide movement on sustainability in the spice sector.

SSI-I focuses to bridge this gap and help Indian spices further expand its market penetration internationally, especially in the European Union (EU), United States, China and Russia.

It trains the farmers to produce spices that meet requirements of the international markets and create larger exportable surplus, which, in turn, has a positive impact on their livelihoods.

Accelerating sustainability in Indian spice sector
Working with NGOs, and funded by private and public players, SSI-I engages in scalable supply interventions based on the three pillars of sustainability - social, environmental and economic, and a more wholesome approach to agriculture extension and education in India.

To address the challenges facing smaller interventions, SSI-I initiatives target the broadest possible base of farmers, empowering them on sustainable agricultural practices. This way, economic return is multiplied for both the farmers and the companies investing in them.

In 2016, SSI-I trained 24,900 spice farmers on sustainability practices, covering an area of 26,015 hectare (ha) under spice cultivation to produce 51,256 of sustainable spices.

The initiative has an ambitious vision to bring sustainable spices to scale by engaging farmers and covering 25 per cent of Indian spices production by 2025.

SSI-I is currently prioritising interventions to increase the sustainable production of chillies, turmeric, pepper, coriander and cumin, which make up the greatest production volume and share similar value chains and sustainability challenges, with the exception of pepper. In the longer term, additional spices may be added and addressed.

(Pant is programme lead and Prasad is communication manager, IDH, Sustainable Spices Initiative  [SSI]-India. They can be contacted at and
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