Known as the queen of spices, cardamom is a high-value cash crop, used all over the world to season, preserve, and enhance the flavour of food. Second only to black pepper for its “low volume, high value nature”, cardamom has the potential to increase farmer incomes, if cultivated according to Good Agricultural Practise (GAP); and careful post-harvest handling.
India is the second largest producer of cardamom globally, after Guatemala. Tanzania, has excellent agri-climatic conditions for cardamom cultivation– the crop grows well in hot, humid, and tropical climates. Tanzania currently produces 150 mt of dried cardamom per year mainly for domestic consumption.
For one Tanzanian agri-business, the potential of the cardamom market only became clear after participating in the International Spice Conference in India in 2019 (ISC 2019). For Mr. Georgie Ferreira, Managing Director, Agri-Ventures, who attended ISC 2019 as part of the SITA-facilitated delegation, the event was an eye-opener. “It was the first time, I was seeing green cardamom. In Tanzania, we typically have yellow cardamom because it is sun-dried after harvest. We don’t have the right technologies for value –addition. Tanzania actually imports green cardamom. I saw that green cardamom was selling at almost double the price of yellow cardamom”, said Mr. Georgie Ferreira. Convinced by the opportunities in international markets, Agri-Ventures started to explore the possibilities of diversifying into the cardamom market. The first step was to procure the right technologies for drying cardamom–, which contributes to the green hue associated with the spice in international markets. Through introductions by SITA’s agribusiness team, Agri-Ventures connected with an Indian business that specializes in producing custom-made machines for drying spices like cardamom. The Indian company had been part of a business delegation led by the Federation of Indian Export Organisations to explore trade and investment opportunities in Kenya and Ethiopia in November 2019. Organized by SITA, the visit included participation in business-to-business meetings at ITC’s World Export Development Forum in Addis Ababa.
The management team, including the company’s engineer, travelled to Tanzania twice over the course of 2019 to meet with Agri-Ventures and to develop a plan for building the custom- made furnace. In January 2020, a new drier, custom-made in India, arrived in Tanzania. The drier would use a special type of briquette to dry the cardamom. The briquettes are made from elephant grass, which grow within a three month period. Avoiding the use of wood, charcoal and electricity contributes to the environmental sustainability of the project.
Understanding cardamom is also integral to the process. According to Mr. Ferreira, “Cardamom is a complex crop. If you don’t pick it at the right time, it loses yield and colour. You need to dry it within 24 hours.” The cardamom is hand-picked by a team of small holder women farmers. It is then dried in the machine for 22 hours. The yield suitable for export is about 15% of the original harvest –a demonstration of the “queen of spices” value!
To date, Agri-ventures has dried ten different stacks of cardamom. After several trials, they were ready to export. The first ton was exported to India via air-freight in March 2020 to a business contact established at ISC 2019. Just under another ton will be sold to contacts in Europe in the coming days. Mr. Ferreira said, “Agri-Ventures would not be where it is today without ITC. ITC’s guidance has propelled me to a level that it would have taken me years to get to within two years. SITA has connected me to the right business opportunities in India, both for purchase of technology and trade connections, that has allowed my company to diversify into cardamom:”