Even as the COVID-19 pandemic spreads across the globe and India has announced a nation-wide lockdown, the spice industry is facing a huge setback. Farmers and traders are facing an enormous crisis after the export of cardamom, pepper and other spices was temporarily suspended due to coronavirus fears.
Last week the Spices Board suspended the cardamom e-auctions scheduled at e-auction centres at Bodinayakanur in Tamil Nadu and Puttady in Kerala with immediate effect until March 31. This has only added to the farmers’ woes. Within a week, the price of cardamom dropped by more than Rs 1,000 per kg. Till the last week of January, the price of cardamom was nearly Rs 4,000 to 4,500 per kg in the retail market. But now it fallen to Rs 2,000 to Rs 2,300. Pepper prices also fell to Rs 290 from Rs 330 per kg. Vendors are also not willing to buy spices such as cardamom, pepper and coffee from farmers.
Johny Joseph Vattathara, who runs Spice More Trading Company in Kumily in Kerala’s Idukki which trades in black pepper, cinnamon, cardamom and coffee, said that the COVID-19 pandemic has severely affected the spices trading and market. “Cardamom is mainly exported to Gulf countries. When COVID-19 started spreading across the world, the Gulf countries temporarily suspended cardamom import from other countries. We lost many export orders from the Gulf, presently we have no idea when the issue will be resolved,” he said.
“Cardamom is firstly bought by vendors from Tamil Nadu and they export the product to other countries including the Gulf. But after the coronavirus scare, foreign countries stopped buying cardamom and the price continues to dip,” Johny added.
“Now the auctions have been suspended in Kerala and Tamil Nadu, so the movement of spices from Idukki district has stopped entirely. In the last cardamom auction, the average price quoted was only Rs 2,336 per kg,” Johny said.
Idukki district in Kerala is India’s largest producer of cardamom. Most of the natives in Idukki are farmers and live solely on income from agricultural produce. So when the traders stopped purchasing spices from them, the farmers are now in dire straits.
Small-scale traders are also upset over the present situation in the spices industry. “We vendors normally purchase spices from the farmers. But now we don’t know how to sell the products purchased through auction. With the lockdown in place, the market will also be suspended till April 14. We have already purchased and stored huge amounts of cardamom and pepper from the farmers. Now we don’t know when we’ll be able to sell it to wholesalers,” said MJ Joseph Mattapparampil, a spices vendor in Idukki.
AA George, a cardamom vendor, said, “In the present situation we can’t buy cardamom or other spices from the farmers. We don’t know when we can sell to wholesale vendors or through auction. The vendors have also stocked large quantities of cardamom and they are facing a big problem in selling their product.”
“Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, there is trade uncertainty in all countries and this will affect the import of cardamom and other spices. In the present situation, the vendors are not willing to purchase,” George added.
PM Thomas, a farmer, said, “Agriculture is my only source of income. But three days ago I tried to sell 10 kg of pepper but no vendor was ready to buy the product. I don’t know how to manage the situation.”