Sri Lanka's spice renaissance

10 May 2007

Kandy, May 10, 2007 - Since primeval times the exotic spices of Sri Lanka have enticed traders from around the world. This aromatic commodity opened trade routes to the West and the Far East. Arab traders arrived here in the 12th and 13th centuries in search of cinnamon, black and white pepper, clove, nutmeg, mace, ginger, turmeric, and saffron. The Portuguese, the Dutch and finally the British arrived in the 16th century lured by spice or more perhaps by their quest to conquer territory.
The Sri Lankan spice trade declined during the 20th century due to the introduction of tea and rubber by its colonial masters. Tea, rubber and coconut became the prime export commodities. Small time spice farmers were exploited by middlemen. Their produce was often of poor quality and much of it went waste while they were put out to dry in open spaces and roadsides.
UNDP’s Small Grants Programme [SGP] / Global Environment Facility [GEF] has played a major role in improving the quality of spice products and thereby the living standards of spice farmers. During the past three years new and hygienic methods of spice drying have been put in place. The use of renewable energy technologies in drying spices has given a major boost to the trade.
UNDP funded Alliance for Appropriate Technology [AfATE] has developed a low cost solar drying device and a more sophisticated drying cabinet. This second device is fueled by short sticks of ‘Gliricidia’ a shrub which is found in abundance around the country. Gliricidia shrubs are used to fence off areas around residences in the villeges and also used to support the growth of vines such as pepper. UNDP/GEF/SGP funded the research into the use of renewable fuel and the development of simple drying machines. Funding was also extended to train farmers and farmer societies in the use of modern methods to process their produce and ensure better prices for them.
The fiberglass dryer which uses defused sunlight costs Rs.37, 000/= [US$ 370] and the large industrial dryer costs Rs. 425,000/= [US$4250]. The Department of Agriculture provides subsidies to the farming community to buy these dryers. The Sarvodaya Economic Enterprise Development Services (SEEDS) provides micro credit facilities to spice farmers.