Kerala’s spices trade – especially pepper and cardamom – has started bearing the brunt of the second Covid-19 wave with reported decline in prices for both the commodities following a subdued upcountry demand.

Pepper prices dropped by ₹8 per kg in the last three days with the average price falling to ₹384, while cardamom witnessed a decline of ₹400 with rates reaching ₹1,100 from ₹1,500 a fortnight ago. This is one of the lowest prices, raising a concern among cardamom trade on the possibility of a further drop.

The movement restrictions imposed by several state governments have slowed down the buying activities of consuming industries in the upcountry markets of Maharashtra, Gujarat, Delhi, Uttar Pradesh etc, hitting the prices of these commodities badly.

A cardamom auctioneer in Vandanmedu told BusinessLine that the market is witnessing heavy selling pressure with an average daily arrival of 100-150 tonnes to the trading platform in the wake of concerns over Covid pandemic that forced planters to sell off their holding stock. There are even repeated requests to stop the auctions for the time being to arrest a further price crash, he said.

Kishore Shamji of Kishor Spices in Kochi said the restrictions coupled with the increased availability of imported Sri Lankan pepper have made its dent on prices. Import prices of pepper have also come down to ₹385 at a time when Sri Lankan imports are on the rise with total imports touching 1,285 tonnes in March.

Majority growers were holding the crop when pepper prices were ruling higher, touching around ₹392 on April 16 and special varieties crossing the ₹400-mark. However, the market is now witnessing a selling spree both for domestic as well as for imported varieties, he said.

C Sadasivasubramaniam, Secretary, Kerala Cardamom Growers Union, said the state government’s insistence for RT-PCR test for those who travelling to the state from Tamil Nadu border districts will affect the availability of labour from Kumbum and Theni to plantations in Idukki’s Udumbanchola district. The 48-hour delay in getting the test results will further complicate the whole process. These workers are travelling on a daily basis to work in cardamom plantations and return back in the same day evening.

The emerging situation will be a major issue that would likely to affect cardamom auctions in the Spices Park at Puttady conducted on alternate days. Last year, the authorities exempted traders from Bodinayakanur from participating in the auctions in Idukki, adds another auctioneer.

A spokesman in the Spices Exporters Forum said pepper prices declined globally as well mainly due to lack of sufficient demand. Vietnam price was ruling around $3650-3700 with major buyers from the US and Europe not showing much interest in prompt shipments. There were a few enquiries for shipments in the third and fourth quarter of the year. India also saw an easier trend due to low demand. The Covid second wave seems to be keeping the market quiet,