I’m back! And I want to give you an update where I’m standing now. To give a very short summary: ‘the first journey of The Good Spice was a success’! This is for a large part thanks to my local partner, Gunajit Brahma of Jeev Anksh. He set up most of the meetings and valuable encounters. I found him to be a smart, trustworthy and ambitious man with the ultimate dream to change the organic market in North-East India. So, we have a common dream in which we want to support each other and luckily also a shared sense of humour.
I went to North-East India to find the best turmeric and cinnamon. The cinnamon did not live up to my expectations, but what I did discover is that in the high, cloudy, clayey grounds of the Jaintia Hills grow unique ‘root spices’: turmeric and ginger. These spices are in the same family and both are roots of a one-year-plant. But their flavour is very distinctive. The turmeric variety in this area is called Lakadong. It has a bright orange colour compared to the more yellow of others and whereas most turmeric can give a dish a stale (Dutch: “muffe”) flavour, Lakadong has a fresh and sharp taste instead. The ginger variation is called Nadia and gives a flavour explosion in your mouth, that makes the one in your cupboard right now feel like only a weak extract.
I got a lot of insight in the cultivation and logistic processes in this region. Most farmers only produce for home consumption. Most of them do not have more than one hectare of land, which is even divided over different plots. They do not use chemical pesticides in the production of turmeric and ginger. This is for many farmers not a conscious choice but follows from ancient old agricultural methods and practical circumstances: turmeric and ginger already have a natural defence system against bacteria and fungi, the small plots of land do not require weeding-chemicals(round-ups), and most farmers have at least one cow, whose dung is a natural fertilizer. However, it is important to stimulate farmers not to be seduced to use chemicals in the future when demand for their products will grow.
Entrepreneurs are slowly popping up in the area as they begin to understand the high quality and value of the Lakadong Turmeric. This development is stimulated by a mining ban in 2014 that has been implemented over the years. The coal-mining business started around three decades ago and many farmers left their land to work in the mines. As more mines close, many of them are returning to turmeric farming, as their families have done for centuries. If the Lakadong trade will develop in a lucrative business this could motivate even more to turn their back to the unhealthy, very polluting and dangerous coal-mining business. For this reason, the (provincial) government is stimulating this transition by financing post-harvest facilities. Unfortunately, these facilities are often not operating as knowledge on entrepreneurship, export and an entrance to a high-quality market is missing. A gap that The Good Spice and Jeev Anksh can fill in together. You can look at the infografic for an overview of the supply chain.
I arrived at Schiphol with several turmeric samples of traders and farmers that we met along the journey. On the basis of development and cooperation criteria, we selected two of these, which will now be tested in a lab for metal contamination (a result of the coal mining; high levels can cause health issues), presence of bacteria and curcumine level (the substance that gives colour and flavour to turmeric).
The first sample is from the entrepreneur Dano. He works together with around two hundred farmers. His love for his work and the farmers became very clear during our visit. He has some post-harvest facilities but will need support to increase the quality of the post-harvest process. The second sample is from a female farmer and community leader who has been cultivating Lakadong for thirty years. She knows her product is one of the best and she works hard to make it even better. If we would work with her the Lakadong will be processed in a government facility. This facility is very modern, but it is not operating yet as it has not yet received any orders. The samples are in the lab as we speak, and the test results will help to make the final decision who we are going to work with. At the end of March, I expect to receive the first batch of our farmer(s) of choice.
I will keep you posted on the final decision, who we will work with!