Kochi: In a country that grows 63 varieties of spices, estimating harvests still follow largely unscientific methods, misleading both the farmers and the trade.
The method to assess crops leaves huge gaps in making estimates realistic, said M. Tamilselvam, director at the Directorate of Arecanut and Spices Development, an agency of the agriculture ministry responsible for estimating India’s spice production.
The directorate has called a meeting of spice agencies in May to evolve a common, scientific method to assess crops. This, Tamilselvam said, will make the country more competitive in global spice trade.
Crop estimation is crucial to determine prices, and unrealistic projections could lead to higher rates. Already, the country’s inflation has topped 7% in recent weeks.
Tamilselvam points to the case of pepper in Kerala, for which the land under cultivation is assessed and regular pre- and post-harvest surveys carried out to arrive at a clear estimation for the crop.
However, Karnataka, which is emerging as a major pepper producer, does not have a scientific method yet, he said. The Karnataka statistical department pegs the state’s annual pepper production at about 4,000 tonnes, but the actual quantity could be 30,000 tonnes as the spice is largely grown as an inter-crop in the coffee estates there.
The country’s pepper exports were about 34,000 tonnes in 2007-08, according to provisional estimates by the Spices Board of India, a government trade promotion body.
However, according to the directorate, India’s total pepper output was estimated to be 69,000 tonnes in 2006-07 and it could be around 65,000-67,000 tonnes during 2007-08. But this does not include the nearly 30,000 tonnes produced in Karnataka, said Tamilselvam.
He also pointed out to the estimate for ginger production, where the weight of the produce has to be considered after drying. However, in the case of states such as Tamil Nadu, Uttar Pradesh and the north-eastern region, it is weighed raw or fresh while it still retains the moisture.
Also, India has many seed spices such as coriander, cumin, fenugreek, fennel and carom, which account for nearly 20% of the $1 billion (Rs4,020 crore) worth of spice exports from here. However, all seed spices except coriander are excluded in the official estimate.
The directorate also plans to involve the Indian Agricultural Statistical Research Institute (IASRI) and all state statistical departments to develop a scientific crop estimation method by end-May, according to Tamilselvam.
Meanwhile, the directorate will focus on bringing more area under high-yielding varieties, supporting the Indian Spice Research Institute.
Currently, high-yielding spice varieties account for hardly 10% of the nearly 2.5 million ha under spice cultivation.