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    Reducing Poverty Through Trade: Spicing Up Rural Life


    © International Trade Centre, International Trade Forum - Issue 4/2004

    Photo: ITC Women farmers from the poorest rural communities have been a focus of ITC's poverty reduction efforts in India. Working with bodies such as the Spices Board India, ITC has helped establish sustainable livelihoods for them, based on exports of spices.

    Businesses as different as luxury vacation resorts and spice-growing by peasant farmers can result in export-led poverty reduction. These two projects supported by ITC indicate how a trade-focused approach to sustainable development can increase revenues for poor communities, encourage collaboration at all levels and even maintain traditional culture.

    In 2000, India exported organic spices and spice products worth US$ 290,000. By 2003 exports had increased almost fourfold to US$ 1.13 million. Much of this improvement results from the efforts of the Spices Board India to encourage organic spice farming for export.

    An ITC workshop on export processing villages in December 1998 triggered the Board's initiative to help rural communities to export organic spices. The resulting project, elaborated with ITC's assistance, was one of 44 programmes chosen from 1,200 competitors to win a US$ 250,000 World Bank award as an "innovative project for reducing poverty". It also became a pilot project of ITC's Export-led Poverty Reduction Programme.

    ITC analysed the market for organic spices in France, Germany, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom, identifying the spices most in demand. It teamed up with the Spices Board and local non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to train farmers in land preparation, organic planting, certification, hygienic harvesting and storage, pest and disease control, the basics of marketing and relations with exporters.

    From the start, the ITC-supported project to improve spice exports from India focused on the poor, particularly indigenous people, and on women. It also built in the flexibility to expand its reach when it became clear that the project was being well received by its participants.

    From 335 families to 2,160

    The four project sites - two in Kerala, one in Tamil Nadu and another in Orissa - at first involved 335 families, of whom 135 came from India's indigenous tribes, and also benefited some 1,800 farmers living around the project sites. From the outset, the proportion of women involved in the project was high: it ranged from 40% to 50% in the Kerala and Orissa sites, and reached 90% in the Nilgiris, Tamil Nadu.

    The original plan was to involve 350 families on 764 acres (309 hectares) of land in a project that would run from 2000 to 2003. As of March 2004, however, the project comprised 2,160 families growing spices on 4,660 acres (1,885 ha). Its plan to conduct six master training programmes was completed by November 2002. Another was held in June 2003 and three more specific, needs-based workshops have also been organized. Between 2000 and 2003, the 36 planned group-training courses had taken place and, as of March 2004, another 16 had been carried out.

    One major task was to create the infrastructure for market promotion and project monitoring. To this end, software was developed for all the NGOs involved, web sites were set up and are regularly updated, and a quality-testing laboratory for basic analysis was created. HOPE (Health of People and Environment), a local NGO, established a herbarium in the Nilgiris and developed branded spices in consumer packs with Samanwita, an NGO based in Orissa. In addition, the NGOs involved have developed internal control systems.

    Promoting certification for success

    Successful projects are sustainable in the long term and, in order to help ensure sustainability, the Spices Board India has promoted certification of farms. So far, three-quarters of the land cultivated by the project's farmers has obtained official certification as organic farms and the rest should be certified by April 2005. Crops other than spices are also included in the certification process.

    As part of the project's publicity and marketing activities, the four local NGOs took part in BioFach, the World Organic Trade Fair held in Nuremburg, Germany, and, in 2002 and 2004, staffed an exclusive organic stall at the World Spice Congress. A film about the project was also produced. As a result, many food writers from around the world have visited the Indian project sites

    "The project has demonstrated the viability of poverty reduction through entrepreneurial capacity building. It could be repeated elsewhere - within India or internationally," says K.P. Somasekharan, a director of the Spices Board. One of the project's objectives was to encourage private exporters to enter into contracts with farmers to buy their spices after the end of the project. "This has already started," he declares.

    "This project is meaningful for developing countries," observes Jaime Crespo-Blanco, coordinator of ITC's Export-led Poverty Reduction Programme. "It shows poor communities the potential that exports have for alleviating their poverty and, even more important, for entering solidly into the world economy."

    ITC Executive Director J. Denis Bélisle notes: "The success of the Indian organic spices export project has led to similar export plans for different products in Brazil, China, El Salvador, Ethiopia, Iran, Kenya, Mongolia and South Africa." ITC is developing these pilot projects and others, such as the following story from Brazil, with funding from the governments of Germany, the Netherlands, Norway and Switzerland.

    Spicy sites on the web

    Spices Board India

    The NGOs associated with this project each launched their own web sites under the project:

    Writer: Peter Hulm

    Organizations mentioned in this story:


    Related ITC sites:

    Poverty Reduction: