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Tea major forays into spice trade

Pepper being grown in a nursery inside an APPL garden. Telegraph picture

Guwahati, July 14: Amalgamated Plantations Private Limited, the second largest tea producer in the country, is all set to launch its brand of spices.

The tea major, which has been growing other crops on its estates, is aiming big vis--vis spices and wants to become a national player within five years.

“The idea is to have fair price aggregation and develop market linkages with the organised sector. APPL’s vision is to become the preferred provider of agri business supply solutions in the Northeast to ultimately benefit the farmer,” Prabir Banerjea, the chief operating officer of APPL’s agri business division, told The Telegraph.

The company is growing only black pepper — the most traded spice in the world — in its gardens. Black pepper, known as the king of spices, is known for its hot, biting flavour and pungent aroma. The latest price for black pepper in India ranges from Rs 35,000 to Rs 50,000 per quintal. The company sources other spices from different states of the region.

“The brand names are being shortlisted and our brands could hit the market by August,” Banerjea said.

The company started growing black pepper commercially from 2007 and the yield this year was 24 metric tonnes — 20 per cent higher than last year. As on date, the company has 200 hectares under black pepper cultivation.

He said the company planned to announce the origin of the produce and their USPs across marketing channels in the organised sector, as “at present, spices from the Northeast are being sold in mandis and nobody knows where these are coming from”.

Independent nurseries have been set up in all gardens to ensure self-sufficiency in planting material and high-yielding and drought-resistant varieties have been sourced from south India.

Banerjea said single polished turmeric fingers with specified curcumin content were recently sent to Olam International — a leading global integrated supply chain manager and processor of agricultural products and food ingredients — for export. “This is for the first time spices have been exported from the Northeast,” he said. The turmeric was mainly sourced from As-sam’s Karbi Anglong district.

The company is also setting up a state of the art processing and packaging plant for spices and fruits aggregated from the Northeast at the North East Mega Food Park in Tihu. Construction will commence after the monsoon this year and trial production will start from the winter of 2014.

The official said the company’s entry into the spices sector in the Northeast would create national links for local produce, benefiting the farming community of the region.

Spices are high value export-oriented commodities, which play an important role in the country’s agricultural economy, as India is the principal source of spices in the global market. In the Northeast, black pepper is mainly grown in Meghalaya, which produces about 400 metric tonnes of the spice annually.

According to Spices Board, the Northeast has tremendous potential for largescale production of spices and it is anticipated that the region can create exportable surpluses at competitive prices, ensuring that the country stays on top in the international spices market.

In fact, the spices sector has been making strides in the Northeast and Spices Board has proposed an outlay of Rs 66.75 crore in the Twelfth Plan to promote the sector in the region. The Twelfth Plan focus is on development of large cardamom and other spices with respect to area expansion, irrigation and land development, mechanisation, organic farming and post-harvest processing.