India sees sharp increase in cardamom smuggling

SMUGGLING of large cardamom has become rampant in India as prices surge to unprecedented levels, the country’s Economic Times newspaper has reported.

The illegal transit of the spice from its chief producing regions of Sikkim and parts of West Bengal to Pakistan, the single largest buyer, has hit exports.

“As a result of the high prices and shortage, large cardamom is being smuggled to Pakistan via Kashmir,” said Mukesh Sindhwani, managing director of Amritsar-based Shivanditta Mal and Company, a leading exporter of the commodity. The company, which annually exports around 500 tonnes, has suffered a 70% drop in the business.

During the April to October period, India exported 275 tonnes, half the quantity that went out in the same period last year. In 2009/10, the total large cardamom exports touched 1,000 tonnes. “Lower crop has prompted a lot of speculation in the market which is driving the prices up,” said Bharat, proprietor of exporting firm Laxmi Enterprises.

The wholesale prices have moved up to around Rs1,000 ($22.18) per kg while the retail prices are hovering around Rs1,300 per kg. It seems to be going the way of small cardamom which peaked at Rs 1,700 per kg during last season.

Spices Board chairman VJ Kurien told the Economic Times that a shortfall in production in the main growing region of Sikkim has led to soaring prices.

Climate change coupled with an emphasis on tourism has led to a decline in the crop output. Mr Sindhwani said: “The interest of people in farming is on the wane and they are after tourism that offers better paying jobs.”

One Spices Board official added that major infrastructure projects were taking up cardamom growing area.

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