Pesticide residue and rising prices cause a negative impact on India’s cumin exports.
In the past few months, cumin (jeera) exports have slowed down a lot. This is because China, the largest buyer, has made it a requirement that shipments are free of nine pesticides, including malathion and carbosulphan. Trade sources say that the drop in Indian cumin crops has also caused buyers from other countries to slow down on purchases.
In Gujarat and Rajasthan, the average price of cumin in April was ₹204 per kg, up 67% from ₹122 in April of last year. Also Read | Banning of 27 pesticides decision by Union Agriculture Ministry likely this week.
‘Exports are not strong. Shipments have dropped by about 45,000 tonnes in the last three months. But there have been some deals in the past few days, and we may see a rise in demand starting in June, according to Devendra Patel, Chairman of the Federation of Indian Spice Stakeholders (FISS), a trade group.
According to FISS data, cumin exports were 13 percent lower in the year 2021, at 2.216 million tonnes, compared to the year before, when they were 2.548 million tonnes. In October, exports dropped by 50 percent compared to the same time last year. In November, they dropped by 48 percent, and in December, they dropped by 56 percent. This was mostly due to fewer shipments to China because of new rules about pesticide residues.
India makes the most cumin and exports between 52 and 55% of what it makes. Cumin is mostly grown in Gujarat and Rajasthan. According to FISS data, production is expected to be 37% lower in 2021-22, at 3.01 lakh tonnes, than it was last year, at 4.78 lakh tonnes, because less land will be used and yields will go down. Around 28% less land was used for farming because farmers switched to other crops like mustard. Also, because of the bad weather, yields were down by about 12,7%.
Production in Gujarat was 44% lower at 1.16 million tonnes than it was at 2.07 million tonnes the year before. In Rajasthan, production was 32% lower than the year before, at 1.84 million tonnes instead of 2.70 million tonnes.
Indian exporters have trouble sending out cumin that doesn’t have any pesticide residues because there isn’t much of it made. ‘Pesticide residue-free cumin is a big question,’ said Yogesh Mehta of SpicExim in Mumbai. ‘Every country that buys cumin is getting stricter about this.’ He said that countries other than the 31 in Europe that want pesticide-free cumin are Saudi Arabia, Morocco, Egypt, and China.
‘China, which usually buys between 60,000 and 70,000 tonnes of cumin, hasn’t come to the market yet this year. Because of the pesticide-residue problem, we don’t think China will buy. Bangladesh, which is our second-largest customer, gets what it needs from Afghanistan. Since prices in India have gone up since last year, buyers don’t want to keep it in stock and are instead buying only what they need, Mehta said.
Cumin prices in Unjha mandi went from around 180 per kg at the beginning of March to a high of ₹220 in the middle of April and have since gone down to around 205. Not only is the crop smaller, but speculators are also driving up the prices when there is no demand.
‘There has been some interest in buying lately because prices have gone down, but the low volumes are worrying,’ said Karthik U, an exporter at Asian Spices in Unjha. With a Cleared Analytical Report from the Spices Board, cumin can be sent to China as of January of this year. India sends a third of the cumin it exports to China.
Most of the residue-free cumin is grown in Rajasthan, in dry places like Barmer and Jaisalmer. In Rajasthan, the South Asia Biotechnology Centre in Jodhpur has been running integrated pest management (IPM) program to grow cumin without any pesticide residues.
‘Every year, around 15,000-16,000 tonnes of IPM cumin are bought directly from the farm gates of hamlets and small villages in Rajasthan’s arid ecosystem by the world’s largest spice and condiment companies. Before the commercial purchase, NABL-accredited labs test each lot for pesticide residue at a cost of 20–25 percent more than the market price. With help from the Department of Biotechnology’s Biotech Kisan Hub project, smallholder farmers in arid areas have been using India’s largest IPM production module that meets good agriculture production (GAP) standards to grow cumin. This helps them meet international quality, safety, and standard norms.