Nutmeg: Grenada’s ‘Black Gold’ Is On The Cusp Of Resurgence

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(Forbes) – Little Grenada or “Spice Island” is only 134 square miles, but is responsible for more than 20 per cent of the world’s nutmeg production— second only to Indonesia, which produces around seventy five per cent of nutmeg globally.  

In the years after the devastation of Hurricanes Ivan and Emily, Grenada’s nutmeg industry experienced significant decline, but with recent technical and commercial developments, nutmeg has never been more ideally poised for global growth in market share.

Nutmeg, dubbed “black gold” by locals, was introduced from the East to Grenada in 1843. Currently accounting for around nine per cent of Grenada’s total harvested area, the crop provides income to approximately 30 per cent of the island’s population.

Nutmeg, dubbed “black gold” by locals, was introduced from the East to Grenada in 1843. Currently accounting for around nine per cent of Grenada’s total harvested area, the crop provides income to approximately 30 per cent of the island’s population.

Technical improvements have also enabled farmers to overcome a number of threats to the growth of the sector.

Although the crop is inherently “climate smart” in that it is relatively resistant to drought, it sequesters carbon, and protects soil and watersheds in upland areas, nutmeg is also considered to be the most vulnerable spice to extreme weather (UNDP). The tree takes four to six years to produce fruit and more than 20 years to reach full production, and given its shallow roots, it can be easily uprooted by wind.

Farmers are learning to adapt to these vulnerabilities by creating windbreaks and shelter belts using trees such as bamboo, mango and citrus in the path of damaging winds, to reduce wind erosion. Intercropping with cocoa, banana, coconuts and root crops has also been an effective measure for soil and root protection.

An alternative propagation method called grafting, introduced in Grenada in 2016, aimed at increasing nutmeg productivity by converting hundreds of male trees into female fruit bearing ones also holds immense promise for the sector. The Caribbean Agricultural Research and Development Institute (CARDI), the Ministry of Agriculture and the Grenada Cooperative Nutmeg Association (GCNA) who are behind the project are extremely optimistic about the implications for the growth of the sector based on these innovations.

These developments and advances have opened the door for a “second wind” for Grenadian nutmeg— both locally and internationally.

In 2019, the Grenada Cooperative Nutmeg Association (GCNA) purchased 1.3 million pounds of nutmeg from farmers for the creation of value-added products and export.

Value added products offer significant economic potential. Dried and ground nutmeg are used for flavouring within the culinary industry including in the manufacture of nutmeg ice-cream, nutmeg rum and rum punch.  Nutmeg oils and butters, made from the seed, are also widely used in the food, cosmetic and pharmaceutical industries.  The outer pericarp is used to make jams, jellies and syrups and the red membrane— mace— is used as a seasoning. The outer shell is often used for mulch.

“Nutmeg tourism” has been growing in popularity and tours of the Gouyave Nutmeg Processing Station, in the coastal city of Gouyave, are popular among visitors who wish to learn how the fruit is prepared for market.

On a global level, demand for nutmeg is estimated at 9,000 tons, with Europe (42 per cent market share) and USA (26 per cent market share) being the primary export markets. In 2017 Grenada was the second largest exporter to Europe, with 8 per cent of total market share. According to the Centre for the Promotion of Imports from developing countries (CBI), Grenada is expected to increase its market share as an exporter to Europe within the coming years. In June 2019, Grenadian nutmeg also received US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval, allowing it to exploit untapped opportunities within the United States export market.

Grenada is set to become a more significant producer and exporter in the years to come. Its impressive yields make it the most spice-dense country in the world and its superior quality place it in high demand, enabling it to attract premium prices.

Given market developments and innovations, this could very well be the era of the “black gold” rush.

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