By Subhas Bhattacharjee
North Eastern Region (NER) of India has an ocean of opportunity, resources and unexplored potential when it comes to agriculture & horticulture. Region is blessed with several comparative advantages like fertile soils, favorable climatic conditions, rich biodiversity, forest wealth, educated manpower as well as a geographically strategic location acting as a gateway to the South East Asian countries. It is the hub of organic & exotic produces, spices & herbs & is a basket full of opportunities for the unusual.
With its proximity to south East Asian markets, being home to diverse & exotic variety of fruits & spices, this region could emerge as a major Centre of agribusiness & can command a high price both in domestic & international market. Though it has all the potential to actively contribute to the betterment of farm incomes, reduce poverty and speed up the overall economic growth, but due to multitude of challenges at several levels, the true potential of the region is not getting realized and the region has not grown as fast as it should have. Realizing that agriculture & Horticulture as the main occupation of the majority of the population of north east, prosperity of the region hinges on the processing of agro-horticultural produce and production to value added products.
NE Region has conducive agro-climatic conditions for the production of high-valued spices like Turmeric, Ginger, King Chillies (Naga Chilli), Bird’s eye chilli (Mizo Chilies), Bay leaves and Large Cardamom. Spices grown are naturally organic or by default. Region is the largest producer of Large Cardamom in India (more than 90%) and largest germplasm conservatory of large cardamom in the world; largest producer of Ginger in India (more than 40% of total production of the country) and high curcumin varieties of Turmeric (Lakadong turmeric); high pungent Chilli grown in India is the King chilli, Bird’s eye chilli also known as Mizo Chilli, Dalle khursani (round chilli); organic Black pepper, best quality Bay leaves (Tejpatta) and the region is also potential source of Cinnamon, Aniseed, and Long pepper.
In the present scenario, infrastructure & industry presence for processing and value addition of spices is minimal hence farmers are forced to sell their fresh/ raw produces at low prices. Though there ere are huge potential for the processing industry as in the present scenario, status of Spices processing industry is in its infancy in the region and most of the produces are marketed either raw or semi-processed stage resulting to low income to the producers. However, few processing facilities set up by the Government or other agencies are running at a low key.
In the north east, low productivity is mainly due to biotic factors like non availability of quality planting material, lack of awareness on how to control the diseases. Socio-economic factors also have an impact as most of the farmers are having low holding capacity and most of them are resource poor. Due to inadequate storage facilities at the farm level and also due to inadequate post harvest & processing facilities most of the surpluses are sold as fresh. Farmers are even forced to sell their produces at a throw away prices because of non existence of any organized market or trade.
In order to have a sustainable and commercial venture in spices, region need to be pro-active and initiate few activities on priority:
- Sourcing of Quality & High Yielding planting materials –
2. Post Harvest Management –
– Low cost storage infrastructure at farm / cluster level
– Low cost processing units at cluster
- Marketing –
– Effective logistic
– Marketing linkages
– Adequate Packaging
Selected food processing opportunities for spices from NE Region can be from Ginger, Turmeric, Chilli, Large Cardamom. They can be commercially exploited as Whole Spices, Dehydrated Spices / Flakes, Grinded Powder, Chutneys, Paste, Oil. Oleoresins and even Natural colours etc.
Different products developed by CSIR-CFTRI (Central Food Technological Research Institute), DFRL (Defence Food Research Laboratory), IIFPT (Indian Institute of Food Processing Technology) can support the processors with technology back up.
Assorted products that can be made from each of these Spices are:
Ginger- Products like Bleached ginger, Unbleached ginger, Salted ginger, Ginger preserve, Ginger candy, Ginger paste, Ginger powder, Ginger oil, Ginger oleoresin, Ginger pickle, Ginger syrup, Ginger ale, Ginger flakes, Ginger squash, Ginger beer, Ginger wine, Crystalline ginger, Brined ginger.
Turmeric – Products like whole turmeric, Turmeric Powder, Dry Turmeric slices, Turmeric Oil, Oleoresin, Curcumin, Curry Powder, natural colour etc.
Chilli – Different products like Pickle & chutneys, Powder, Whole dried product, Flakes etc.
Large Cardamom – Whole large cardamom. NERAMAC Ltd in association with Spices Board are arranging large cardamom auction from more than a decade in Sikkim. A software has also been developed through C-DAC, Govt of India for its online auction.
Many of the horticultural produces of NE Region have got a GI tag which help the producers in a big way for branding, marketing and protecting the exclusive, special local crops as an identity of the products. Among these, three important spices like Assam Karbi Anglong Ginger from Assam, Naga Chilli from Nagaland, Mizo Chilli from MIzoram and Sikkim Large Cardamom from Sikkim has already got the coveted GI tag. Meghalaya has taken initiative for GI registration of Lakadang Turmeric which is in proposal stage while GI application have been filed for Thingpui Mizo Ginger, Thinglaidum Ginger from Mizoram and Dalle Khorsani from Sikkim.
In the north east, even today, marketing to pre-harvest contractors is prevalent in certain areas where farmers receive advance payments immediately after acceptance of offer. Farmers are naturally risk averter and prefer to be safe than sorry. Mostly they intend to prefer an inferior outcome that is relatively certain to the prospect of a higher average return with a greater degree of risk attached. Markets are thin, unorganized & lack of market power to small holders makes market more risky. Lack of finance also undermines the capacity of private sector to invest in its trading enterprise & limits the scope & scale of market. Govt of India’s initiative of setting up of FPO/FPC through its different schemes have started giving a boost in its productivity and market linkages.
Few of the important spices of north east like Ginger and Turmeric are good immune booster. Today, consumers are more health conscious & are very much aware of what they consume. Hygiene products has a preference as consumers are changing their behaviour towards personal hygiene & look for quality product. Food safety & health consciousness, the demand for quality foods is on rise and that’s where the Investors / manufacturers need to ensure that food they produce are safer and healthy. Processing & value addition will be the key to success wherein the products are processed in a condition where the consumers are confident of consuming it. Primary processing of different spices will be the best proposition followed by quality consumables in spices in the region.
In order to spur industrial growth and make the region investor-friendly, initiative of the Government through its different schemes including Atmanirbhar Bharat Abhiyan can evolve new product development based on consumer behavior to support open up new opportunities for processing by reducing wastage. Entrepreneurs and Investors can take advantage of different Schemes under Ministry of Food Processing Industries, Spices Board, National Horticulture Board, MOVCDNER (Mission on Organic Value Chain Development of North Eastern Region) etc to create and set up facilities in the region. Besides, Government is also making efforts to promote startup companies & develop entrepreneurship particularly in the north east to make a favorable change in the scenario of the North Eastern Region.
Former Managing Director, NERAMAC Ltd, Ministry of DoNER, Govt. of India, Guwahati