Food For Thought

Spice Diplomacy

Bishaldeep Kakati & Bagmita Borthakur

Ancient Indian texts often refer food as the ultimate healer and curer which can be understood by a popular quote from the Indian ancient texts, “aushadha-mucchyathe-sarvam”. The land of India since time immemorial has always been known for its vivid cuisines, which is accompanied by native Indian spices. The spices of India are so popular, that it also has a history of trading with civilisations of ancient China and Rome. The Indian spices, even till date, have been internationally recognised for its medicinal value, aroma, taste and texture. According to the list of notable spices, prepared by the ISO, India alone produces 75 out of the total 109 varieties of recognised spices.

The popularity of the Indian spices globally, has thereby enhanced the Indian spice industry and data shows that the Indian spice industry is a big boost to the Indian economy as well. According to data reported, in the financial year 2020, spices worth over 3.62 Billion USD was exported by India. In fact, between the period from April 2020 and March 2021, an export value of spices worth 4 Billion USD was achieved by India. Further, from the official sources of Indian Brand Equity Formation, it was known that a whooping 1.08 billion KG of different spices was exported by India, during the year 2017-18. Along with it, report on spices market (2021-26) by Industry ARC foresees the continuing growth of the spice market with a 4.80% CAGR between the period from 2019-25.

In fact in the global scenario, India occupies the top spot in terms of export of chilly, cumin, and turmeric. The China and the US formed the major markets for India’s spices, for the financial year 2022. On one hand, China is heavily dependent on India for import of chilly, cumin and mint products, and on the other hand, US relies heavily on India for imports of curry powder and pastes, spice oils, and oleoresins. Further India also exports turmeric and ginger to Bangladesh, and countries like UAE and Saudi Arabia import small cardamom from India. And the conspicuous thing is that these countries in an amalgamated way constitute 50% of the export of the Indian Spice Market.

The encouraging scenario behind the growth of the India’s Spice Market is mainly because of the various steps that have been implemented by the Government. The Government has focused on value addition, quality improvement and branding. The government through Spices Board has laid importance on infrastructure development for quality evaluation, research and development and has also encouraged India’s spices to be apart of the global trading market via participation in international fairs and have also set up Spice Parks or the benefit of producers and exporters. Laboratories have already been set up in various cities like Cochin, Mumbai, Delhi, Chennai, Guntur, and Tuticorin for the purpose of equality evaluation. These steps have indeed further strengthened the spice industry of India to capture the global market. The growth of India’s spice industry has no doubt been a big benefit for India’s growing economy but it’s time the policymakers think of taking India’s spice market to the next level by enhancing diplomacy and foreign relations with countries across the globe through it.

For one thing food and cuisines have played a cardinal role in enhancing diplomacy. In the book, The Art of Diplomacy, Francois de Callieres rightly pointed, “the natural effect of good eating and drinking is the inauguration of friendships and the creation of familiarity, and when people are a trifle warmed by wine they often disclose secrets of importance”. Added to this, French Diplomat, Talleyrand famously told Napoleon, “Give me a good chef, and I will give you good treaties”. The former US Secretary of State, Hilary Clinton in terms of developing diplomacy through food once quoted “Showcasing favourite cuisines, ceremonies and values is an often overlooked and powerful tool of diplomacy”. These statements are brought in to further justify the fact that food can be a strong instrument to develop diplomacy.

Speaking of food, Indian cuisines are popular all over the world and one of the reasons behind it is the addition of the spices to these cuisines that form an essential part of it. Most countries also have Indian restaurants,and Indian inhabitants residing in western countries as well as the global citizens have all shown their interest in the Indian cuisines. This brings forth the fact that Indian spices that addflavour to the Indian cuisines can definitely be used as a diplomatic tool to enhance International relations, as developed countries like US and China are already major exporters of Indian Spices. In this context, itis also necessary to bring in the statement that was given by Australian Diplomat, Lachlan Strahan. Mr Strahan once told, “Food provides the naturally convivial setting for interaction between Australia and India and lays the base for a deeper relationship”. Therefore this also forwards a duty forthe Indian chefs to show their creativity in coming up with cuisines that might be globally accepted with the proper usage of Indian spices, thereby enhancing diplomacy. As such, more popular the Indian cuisines become, the more vibrant Indian spices shall be, leading to creation of strong foreign relations.

Furthermore, the West has also focused constantly on the importance of Indian Spices as the cure for many ailments. This is because Indian spices also contain many medicinal properties which is already known and more detail research on it may also lead to knowing of many other antibiotic and medicinal properties. This if done properly can further increase the demand of the Indian Spices and thereby enhance the spice market.In reality the benefit of Indian spices is manifold as it is not only leading to the economic growth of the country but also enhancing the foreign diplomacy with its increasing demand because of its aroma, texture and medicinal properties.

To be precise, the strategic importance of the Spice industry of India, can be simply understood by the statement given by PushkarMukeshwar, CEO/Founder of Drip capital. He commented, “Another industry trend India can capitalise on is emphasising the medical properties and potential health benefits that spices like turmeric, ginger, cinnamon etc can offer. Identifying countries with an increasing influence of Ayurveda and natural remedies will reveal new opportunities for Indian spice exporters.”

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Vol 55, No. 20, Nov 13 - 19, 2022