SPICES have drawn intrepid merchants to Indian shores through history, but falling international prices and uncertain demand abroad are worrying Indian growers, who supply about one-third of the world's spice trade. Official figures at the second spice congress in Goa recently show Indian spice exports dropped from 1.12 lakh tonnes in 1989-90, with a value of Rs 277 crore, to 1.03 lakh tonnes valued at Rs 234 crore in 1990-91. Union minister of state for agriculture Mullapally Ramachandran pointed out the real unit export value of all spices actually dropped last year to 50 per cent of the peak price of Rs 36.71 per kg recorded in 1987-88.
Production of pepper dropped from 36,900 tonnes in 1988-89 to 31,800 tonnes last year. Its price, along with that of cardamom, either remained steady or declined in recent years, with the figures becoming even more dismal if inflation is taken into account.
Spice Board officials sounded an optimistic note, however, because exports last year amounted to 1.10 lakh tonnes with a value of Rs 290 crore. Assuring growers of infrastructural support, Ramachandran said Rs 150 crore has been earmarked in the Eighth Plan and about the same sum has been set aside by spice-growing states for development of production and exports. The government's target is for a 10 per cent annual production increase, which would raise production from 2 million tonnes at present to 3.2 million tonnes by the end of the plan period and 4.2 million tonnes in 2000.
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