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India’s Cumin Exports Hampered by Pesticide Residue & Rising Prices

The residue-free cumin is primarily grown in Rajasthan's arid regions such as Barmer and Jaisalmer. In Rajasthan, the South Asia Biotechnology Centre in Jodhpur has been implementing an integrated pest management (IPM) programme to produce residue-free cumin.

Shivam Dwivedi
Cumin (Jeera)
Cumin (Jeera)

Exports of cumin (jeera) have slowed significantly in recent months after China, the largest buyer, mandated that shipments be free of nine pesticide residues, including malathion and carbosulphan. Furthermore, the rise in Indian cumin prices due to lower crop yields has slowed purchases by overseas buyers, according to trade sources.

In Gujarat and Rajasthan, the average cumin price in April this year was 204 per kg, up 67% from 122 in April last year.

"Exports are low. Shipments have fallen by around 45,000 tonnes in the last three months. However, some transactions have occurred in recent days, and we may see an increase in demand beginning in June," said Devendra Patel, Chairman of the Federation of Indian Spice Stakeholders (FISS), a trade body.

According to FISS data, cumin exports decreased by 13% in the calendar year 2021 to 2.216 lakh tonnes from 2.548 lakh tonnes the previous year. Exports fell precipitously in October (50 percent lower than the same period last year), November (48 percent), and December (56 percent), owing primarily to a drop in shipments to China due to the implementation of pesticide residue standards.

India, the world's largest cumin producer, exports approximately 52-55 percent of its output. Cumin is primarily produced in Gujarat and Rajasthan, and production in 2021-22 is expected to be 37% lower at 3.01 lakh tonnes compared to last year's 4.78 lakh tonnes due to lower acreages and yield declines, according to FISS data. Farmers shifted to alternative crops such as mustard, which reduced overall acreage by about 28%. Furthermore, yields were down by about 12.7% as a result of the unfavourable weather.

Gujarat production was 44% lower than last year, at 1.16 lakh tonnes, compared to 2.07 lakh tonnes. In Rajasthan, output fell by 32% to 1.84 lakh tonnes from 2.70 lakh tonnes the previous year.

Because the production of such seed spice is limited, Indian exporters face a challenge in shipping out pesticide residue-free cumin. "Every consuming country is gradually insisting on pesticide residue-free cumin, which is a big question," said Yogesh Mehta of SpicExim in Mumbai. Aside from the 31 European countries, he claims that Saudi Arabia, Morocco, Egypt, and China all want pesticide-free cumin.

Cumin prices in Unjha mandi rose from around 180 per kg in early March to a high of 220 in mid-April before falling to around 205 levels. Aside from a lower crop, speculators are seen driving up prices in the absence of demand.

"There has been some buying interest in recent days following the drop in prices," said Karthik U of Asian Spices, an exporter in Unjha. Cumin exports to China are permitted with a Spices Board Cleared Analytical Report as of January of this year. One-third of India's cumin exports are to China.

The residue-free cumin is primarily grown in Rajasthan's arid regions such as Barmer and Jaisalmer. In Rajasthan, the South Asia Biotechnology Centre in Jodhpur has been implementing an integrated pest management (IPM) programme to produce residue-free cumin.

"Around 15,000-16,000 tonnes of IPM cumin is procured annually, directly from farm gates from hamlets and small villages in Rajasthan's arid ecosystem by the world's largest spices/condiment companies." Before commercial purchase, each lot is tested for pesticide residue by NABL accredited laboratories at a premium of around 20-25 percent above market price. Smallholder farmers in the arid region have been turning to India's largest IPM production module complying with good agricultural production (GAP) in cumin production to meet international quality, standard, and safety norms, thanks to the Department of Biotechnology's Biotech Kisan Hub project," said Bhagirath Chaudhary, Founder Director, SABC.

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