Prices of jeera (cumin) have perked up as farmers in Rajasthan and Gujarat — the two large producing States — have shifted some of their area to oilseed crops such as mustard and castor this rabi season.

Officials at Spices Board confirmed that the area under jeera has come down by about 30 per cent in Rajasthan at 5.39 lakh hectares (lh) this year compared with 7.7 lh last year. In Gujarat, the area is down to 3.40 lh compared with 4.70 lh last year.

Spot prices of jeera at Unjha market are ruling at ₹18,280 per quintal compared with ₹13,620 during July-end — an increase of around 34 per cent over the past six months. Compared with the levels in January 2021, prices are higher by 42 per cent. In January 2021, prices were around ₹12,960 levels.

In the futures segment, jeera is trading higher than the spot price. On the NCDEX, the March 2022 contract is quoted at ₹19,410, while the April series is traded at ₹19,550.

Heavy speculation

Trade sources attribute the surge in prices to speculation.

“Speculators are driving up the prices saying sowing is lower, the climatic condition is bad, the yield will be less. Fundamentally, there is no chance for the prices to increase. The area is lower by 25-30 per cent, but there is no demand for exports. Who will buy at this high price?,” wondered Yogesh Mehta of Spice Exim.

He estimates that the crop this year would be around 60-65 lakh bags (of 55 kg each). The carry-forward stocks would be around 25 lakh bags. Last year, the jeera crop was a bumper 93 lakh bags and a carry forward stock was 20 lakh bags.

The decline in the area under jeera is more in Rajasthan, where farmers have shifted to mustard, as prices of the oilseed crop was attractive during the sowing season. Similarly, the shift is towards castor seed in Gujarat, Spices Board officials said.

Though Rajasthan has the largest area under jeera, Gujarat is the largest producer on account of higher yield. While the yield is around 400-500 kg per hectare in Rajasthan, it is almost double at 900-1,000 kg/ha in Gujarat. The harvest of the 2022 crop will start from February-March and the climate will be crucial going forward.

Pest management

“For last two years, smallholder growers were under subdued market price pressure, hardly able to make their ends meet growing cumin in adverse climatic conditions. The recent surge in market price is a welcome trend induced by low acreages and potential losses due to untimely precipitation and hailstorms,” said Bhagirath Choudhary, Founder Director, South Asia Biotechnology Centre, Jodhpur, which is implementing an integrated pest management (IPM) programme in cumin cultivation in Rajasthan.

“Additionally, cumin farmers deserve better price realisation amidst changing climate and increasing pests intensity resulting in higher production cost. Under the Biotech Kisan hub programme, cumin farmers are turning to residue-free IPM cumin which is fetching a 15-20 per cent price premium with a record procurement at 18,000 tonnes from western Rajasthan in 2020-21,” Choudhary said.

Jeera exports were estimated at 2.99 lakh tonnes valued at ₹4,253.10 crore during 2020-21 compared with 2.14 lakh tonnes valued at ₹3,328 crore the previous year.