India is famous for its spices since ages and the spice export trade of India dates back to the medieval times when the Muslim traders had a monopoly on spice trading. These traders plied the Indian Ocean buying spices from India and exporting them to the west via Red sea, the Persian Gulf and finally to Europe. Present day India holds an undisputed position as a competitor to be reckoned with in the World Spice Trade.

Under Section 3 of the Spices Board Act 1986, the Spices Board was established in February, 1987 (with its head office in Kochi) as a nodal organization of the Indian Ministry of Commerce. The major responsibilities of this statutory body include promoting and enhancing developments of the cardamom industry and controlling and expanding the total spice export sector of India. The responsibility of export of all the 52 spices enlisted in The Spices Board Act of 1986 is vested upon the Spices Board including special emphasis on cardamom. The other functions of the Spices Board include extensive R&D for the overall improvement of export quality spices (which includes scientific, technological and economic research), issuing certificates endorsing export quality spices, extending financial help where necessary, development and implementation of programs for improving post harvest techniques and introducing new innovations to develop the overall spice export sector of India.

One of the recent ingenious projects undertaken by the Spices Board is the establishment of the Spice Parks. The sole motive behind the establishment of the Spice Parks is to improve processing and value addition of the spices. The Spice Parks are equipped with international standard infrastructure to facilitate the various operations starting from cleaning to the final packaging of spices including value addition so the spices can fetch a much better price in the global spice market. The project will also simplify the current complicated chain of exporting spices by eliminating the intermediate distributors thereby enabling the farmers to sell their products directly to the exporters. This on one hand will encourage the farmers to use the facilities provided by the Spice Parks for they will secure a better price for their produces and on the other hand ensure a direct access of the exporters to the Spice Parks under terms and conditions from the Spices Board. The Spices Board has marked seven sites for the proposed Spice Parks namely Chhindwara (Madhya Pradesh), Puttady (Kerala), Guntur (Andhra Pradesh), Jodhpur (Rajasthan), Mehsana (Gujrat), Kota (Rajasthan) and Guna (MP).

Kamal Nath, the Union Minister for Commerce & Industry inaugurated the first of the Spice Parks in the Laas village, Umranala near Chhindwara in MP on the Chhindwara Nagpur Highway covering an extensive area of 18 acres. The Rs 20crore Park is initially functioning as a Garlic Processing Unit completely equipped with a Garlic Dehydration Plant (provided by the Spices Board) along with a Steam Sterilization Unit (provided by STCL). The imported machinery of the Park ensure better and faster processing. Keeping in mind the strict norms of global food export standards, the farmers using the park facilities had been given special training to harness the full advantage of the superior infrastructure. Intensive cooperation from the Spices Board is available to the farmers to enhance marketing and export related issues.

Inaugurated by the Union Minister of Commerce and Industry, Mr Anand Sharma and Mr. Ashok Gehlot, Chief Minister of Rajasthan in 2012, the Spice Park in the Rampura Bhatia village of Ozian Tehsil near Jodhpur, covers an impressive 60 acres. This Park specializes in processing of seed spices like coriander and cumin. The Park has three warehouses for storage of raw materials with an average floor area of 800 square meters. The Park is equipped with state of the art machinery that can also process seed spices like fennel and fenugreek and has a turnover of 2 tons of export ready packaged spice per hour (that includes all operations starting from cleaning, grinding etc. to the final packaging). Facilities for extraction of oils and oleo resins from the seed spices has been made possible by giving a free hand to 17 exporters through a private public liaison allowing them to set up their own processing units and cold storage facilities. The sterilization facility of the park can ‘batch process’ 250 kilos of spice per hour. The Park has its own power backup and a complete fire fighting system.

Currently three Spice Parks are fully operational namely Chhindwara in MP, Puttady in Kerala and Jodhpur in Rajasthan. Other than state of the art machinery and the latest technologies to produce export ready packaged spices, these parks are almost self sufficient. They are also equipped with power back ups, water supply and irrigation systems, complete fire hazard control systems, truck depots, warehouses, banks, post offices, business centers, guest houses, conference halls, training halls, restaurants, quality control laboratories and even customs clearance facilities to enable smooth export operations. The fourth Spice Park was inaugurated in March 2013 by the Union Minister of State, Ministry of Power, Sri Jyotiraditya Scindia in Guna, MP.

The latest Spice Park that is on its way has an estimated budget of Rs 22 crores. Located in Dusoo, this park will specialize in saffron processing. Apart from the standard hi-tech machinery, the park is supposed to have special facilities like motorized carts, close to a hundred ‘poly green houses’, sprinkler irrigation system and a special irrigation network installed at a cost of Rs 22 Lakhs. The park was supposed to be operational by April, 2013.

The Spice Parks are a Rs 167 crore project which will not only give a tremendous boost to the already dominating India in the World Spice Trade but also prove to be an employment intensive sector for the rural areas of India. The total export of spice and allied items in 2012-2013 was a whopping 6,99,170 tons which surpassed the Spices Board’s set target of 5,66,000 tons. The net export value was Rs 11,171.16 crore (US$ 2,040.18 million) compared to 2011-2012 figure of Rs 9,783.42 crore (US$ 2,037.76 million). All this was possible through the relentless pursuit of the Spices Board to improve the spice export sector of India.

I would like to conclude this article with a small but amazing example of the popularity of Indian spices abroad. In the remote south Texas town of El Paso, USA, there is a store, “Indian and International Food Store” that sells exclusively Indian spices imported from India. A long journey from Rajasthan to El Paso, Texas, USA, wouldn’t you say?