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From Sweet to HOT SPICE

Published on: 01-Feb-2015


                                                              Interview with Willem van Noort, Lithos Spices

Can you give us some insights in the world market on spices?
Spices have always been considered of significant value and have played an important role in global trade, stretching back thousands of years. For Dutch readers, spices probably immediately call up associ - ations with the 17th century, when Dutch ships sailed all over the world carrying valuable nutmeg and pep - per. Indeed the quest for these spices fuelled a great many of human kind greatest developments. Black and white pepper are still the king of exported spices, taking up roughly half of the total globally exported volume of about 700.000 tons per year. Ginger and chillies/paprika are the next biggest exported spic - es. The major spice exporters are from the Far East: countries like Indonesia, China, Vietnam and in par - ticular India. Local use in China, Indonesia and India is very large and increasing. World production today easily reaches 6.000.000 tons per year, of which in - deed the majority is “captive use”.

Lithos Spices is working in Africa? Is that not a very small market for spices?
Africa has climates and soil conditions that are very suitable for the cultivation of spices. Countries like Tanzania and Madagascar in East Africa export a sub - stantial amount of spices and have done so for many centuries. Zanzibar, for example, has traditional - ly been a big producer of cloves, which inspired its nickname as the ‘Spice Island’. Nigeria, in West Africa, has developed this industry suc - cessfully and now meets EU & USA requirements for ex - porting ginger. Today, 18% of the world chilli production and 12% of the world ginger production come from Afri - can countries. Of course, with spices being a niche market in certain parts of Africa, production might be fleeting in some cases. We have seen, for example, that due to the political unrest in Zimbabwe, the paprika exports moved away to Peru. The local markets are not comparable to those in Indonesia and India and neither is the size of the production, but Africa has a history and thus an ex - isting infrastructure of spice production. There is a lot of potential there for further growth, thereby filling the ever growing gap between an increased world demand and reduced export volumes (due to economic growth and ris - ing captive use) in exporting countries from the Far East.


You focus primarily on Ethiopia. Why?
Comparable to India, Ethiopia has a long tradition of spicy food, especially hot chilli mixtures (“berbere”), which are used in almost every meal. Ginger and turmeric are also widely cultivated. The Ethiopian climate is suitable to grow a broad range of spices, even including pepper (pip - er nigrum). While chillies are mainly consumed on the do - mestic market, ginger has developed into an export cash crop. However, the export value of Ethiopian spice is still limited to less than 2% of its agri-exports, while coffee, pulses and oilseeds account for 80% of the US$ 1 billion in foreign exchange every year. Of the 15.000 tons of spic - es exported today, 95% goes to neighbouring countries. The reason Ethiopian export is primarily regional, is that spices like ginger and turmeric, though excellent in terms of taste, colour and essential oil content, generally do not meet international quality standards. Better post-har - vest treatment and an efficient, short supply chain, can ensure that EU quality levels for hygiene, quality minima and packaging are met. The quality of Ethiopian spices and the enormous growth potential due to its current low base level, means that by instituting a solid post-harvest treatment, Lithos Spices can take advantage of this op - portunity. Our Corporate Social Responsibility programme takes EU regulations into account, creates an atmosphere of responsible business and teaches local farmers impor - tant business practices.

How does the future look like?
In 2015, we hope to extend our export portfolio with black pepper, which on small scale is already being intercropped with coffee. In years to follow, we hope to develop dried sweet paprika, a product which is in high demand by (Spanish) paprika processors. Present paprika producers, like Peru, currently experience a drop in exporting vol - umes. With demand in Europe still increasing, European customers therefore turn their eyes to East-Africa, where climate conditions are favourable for this crop. In this re - spect, Tanzania is a good example. It started paprika pro - duction around the turn of the millennium and in 2006 it already produced 500 tons a year. The East-African cli - mate allows for large scale production and paprika will be a valuable addition to our assortment.

Last November, Willem van Noort was the mis - sion leader of the spices, herbs and aromatics trade mission to Ethiopia organised by NABC on behalf of the Agri Business Support Facility and the Addis Ababa Chamber of Commerce and Sectoral Associations. 

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