No reliable published data are available on global trade in organic agricultural products. The International Trade Centre, Geneva has, however, carried out a market survey in Europe (Denmark, France, Germany, The Netherlands, Sweden, Switzerland, Austria and Italy) and in the United States and Japan in 1997. According to this survey, retail sales of organic foods in these markets were estimated at US$11 billion. The survey did not include Australia, New Zealand and other developed countries. Including these countries, the organic food trade in 1997 would have been over US$12 billion. According to the statistics published by the International Trade Centre, spices are also important organic products marketed globally (Anon. 1999).
Demand for organic spices varies considerably from country to country and in the kind of spices in a particular country. At present, only a few European countries, USA, Canada and Japan are looking for organic spices. However, countries such as Australia, New Zealand and some other European countries may become involved in the organic spice trade because of the increasing awareness of the safety of organic food consumption. Germany has the highest demand for various organic spices. The world import of various organic spices together during 1999 was less than 300 tonnes as assessed from important buyers. Of this, organic black pepper import was more than 50% followed by ginger, nutmeg and clove.
Traditionally, Indian farmers followed organic cultivation methods until the middle of the last century, as they had no other choice. Since the 1960s, many chemical inputs for increasing agricultural production have become available both from domestic production and import. Some of the chemicals imported, particularly for plant protection, were highly dangerous to human health and they left poisonous residues in the soil after application lasting a few decades. The green revolution initiated by importing dwarf and fertilizer responsive wheat and rice varieties led to production programmes using various chemicals profusely in the urge to enhance productivity.
A new trend is being developed in India now to produce various crops, including spices, organically not only to protect the natural environment but also because of the need for having safe agriculture products for human consumption. Accordingly some farmers produce spices by organic methods for their own consumption and also for sale in a limited way in the local markets.
India has established a name in supplying quality organic spices to Europe and USA. The pioneering work in this regard has been by the Peermade Development Society, Peermade, Kerala, India, with the support of the Spices Board of India. A number of organic spices such as black pepper, white pepper, ginger, turmeric, clove, nutmeg and mace have been exported to USA, the Netherlands, Germany and Switzerland since 1998. The Society has over 1200 farmers growing various horticultural crops especially black pepper and other spices in South India. The Society proposes to produce various other spices like vanilla, chilli, coriander, cumin, fennel, fenugreek, etc., through organic cultivation methods in the near future. A centre for research and training of vermicompost production and multiplication and distribution of bio-agents like Trichoderma has been set up for supporting farmers in organic cultivation by the Society (George 1999a). There are a few other non-governmental organizations for promoting organic production of herbs in Nilgiri district, black pepper in Wynad district and turmeric and ginger in Phulbani district in India.
Among other producing countries, Sri Lanka and Indonesia are also in the organic spice production and trade. These countries produce largely organic black pepper. They have established export channels and have entered in the international market for organic spices in recent years.
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