Knowledge about spice production

The use of spices for nutritional and health purposes by humans has a long tradition. As far back as ancient Egypt, cardamom and cinnamon were used to flavor food and were sourced from Ethiopia. Most spices grow and are grown in the global south, in countries such as India, Indonesia and Brazil. In the Roman Empire and medieval Europe, the spice trade was dominated by influential merchants, and only the very wealthy could afford to season food. In 1393, for example, a pound of nutmeg was worth seven oxen. Today, spices are available and affordable in many parts of the world, and demand is steadily increasing. The global trade in spices is currently worth over 10 billion euros. But at what price do these spices refine our Christmas cuisine? On closer look, aspects of the value chain leave a bitter aftertaste.

Spices in the kitchen and medicine cabinet

Spices can be used for culinary purposes and to garnish food. Adding tiny amounts of a single spice, such as chilies, can fundamentally change the flavor of a dish. Not only do spices have their rightful place in the kitchen, but they have also been used as a healing tool for thousands of years. Spices have remarkable health benefits, which are illustrated here using cinnamon as an example. Cinnamon, which is used a lot in desserts and baked goods, has anti-inflammatory effects and lowers cholesterol and blood sugar levels. Most other spices also have positive effects on our health.

Contribution to livelihood

The production of spices contributes to the livelihood of many farmers in the global south. The largest exporting countries are India (18%), China (13%) and Vietnam (9%). About 90% of spices are cultivated by smallholder farmers. They usually cultivate less than two hectares of land and rotate the cultivation of spices with other crops. However, many smallholders suffer from fluctuating world market prices. The market price is often even lower than the production costs.

Challenges

Spice producers face many challenges in the pre-production and production phases. They often lack knowledge and access to technologies that would improve crop handling. Another problem is the overuse of pesticides. The high pesticide residues negatively affect the quality of spices and thus their exportability. In addition, excessive use leads to water pollution, soil degradation, and erosion.

 

However, production not only has a negative impact on the quality of spices and the environment, but in many cases damages the health of workers. Especially in Indonesia, cases have been documented where workers were poisoned because they did not have adequate protective clothing. Child labor is also still common in spice production, for example in pepper production in Vietnam. In many societies shaped by the extractive industries, women are also structurally disadvantaged. For example, the proportion of women in the agricultural workforce in India has risen steadily in recent years and already exceeds 40%. Nevertheless, women own less than 2% of the cultivated land and are not recognized as farmers by the Indian government.

Potential

Spice production plays an important role in social and economic development in producing countries. If cultivated in a sustainable manner, spice production contributes significantly to increasing incomes and thus to poverty reduction. Furthermore, policy makers and development programs need to create incentives for the private sector to invest in sustainable structures and cultivation methods. For consumers, it is important to identify spices produced in a fair way through certification. By doing so, more conscious purchasing decisions can be made by the consumer.

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