Spices and Herbs

Christopher Columbus discovered America when he was aiming to open up a new route for the lucrative spice trade. While we no longer discover new continents, we can explore new worlds of smell and taste through the herbs and spices that we enjoy from around the world. The world of the small-scale farmers and plantation workers that grow and harvest these herbs and spices for us is often challenging, which is why Fairtrade began certifying herbs, herbal teas and spices in 2005.    

Today, Fairtrade shoppers can choose from a diverse collection of herbs, herbal teas and spices - vanilla, rooibos, cardamom or turmeric, just to name a few - for cooking, flavouring, or the creation of a delicious hot drink. Of the around 50 plants that are significant for the global herbs and spices trade, Fairtrade certifies the large majority. To discover the full range, have a look at our Herbs and Spices list.

Fairtrade Herbs, Herbal Teas and Spices Facts

  • Most Fairtrade producer organizations for herbs, herbal teas and spices are located in India, Madagascar, Vietnam and South Africa. Other producing countries include Tonga, Iran and Uzbekistan.

  • In 2013-14, Fairtrade certified producers were able to sell 10,700 tonnes of herbs, herbal teas and spices on Fairtrade terms, according to the 2015 Fairtrade Monitoring and Impact Report.

  • Fairtrade smallholder farmers and workers cultivated their products on 17,700 hectares of arable land.

  • They received €529,300 in Fairtrade Premium payments for the products they sold on Fairtrade terms.

  • The certification on agave producers in Mexico led to a significant increase of both sales volumes and Fairtrade Premium payments for this category.

Impact of Fairtrade for Herbs and Spices Producers

Fairtrade applies a two-tier model to strengthen the financial sustainability of Fairtrade small-scale famers and workers who grow Fairtrade herbs and spices. As a default rule, traders that purchase herbs and spices on Fairtrade terms pay a Premium of 15 percent on top of the commercial sales price. These Premium payments are collected by the cooperatives formed by Fairtrade small-scale famers or by Premium Committees formed by elected workers on plantations.

Due to the large and diverse amounts of different herbs and spices Fairtrade certifies, there is no Fairtrade Minimum Price for the herbs and spices for which the 15 percent Fairtrade Premium is paid. However, for long-standing Fairtrade certified products, such as vanilla, and for those herbs and spices for which the concerned farmers request it, Fairtrade has established a Minimum Prices. Use the table on our website to find all current Fairtrade Minimum Prices and Premiums for individual products.

Small-scale farmers and plantation workers invest the Fairtrade Premium to foster the economic, social and ecological wellbeing of their communities. For this, cooperative members or, on plantations the body of workers represented by a Premium Committee, meet regularly in general assemblies to decide democratically how the Premium funds should be spent. Popular investments include education, health care and community projects as well as processing equipment and loans or cash payments to members.

Beyond the Fairtrade Minimum Price and Premium, Fairtrade certification has many other benefits for herbs and spices smallholder farmers and plantation workers. Among these are the availability of pre-financing, requirements and training for safety, health and environmental protection as well as consultation for cultivation and processing techniques.

Challenges for Herbs and Spices Producers

While the number of small-scale farmers and plantations that grow specific herbs and spices is globally vast and diverse, the number of companies that trade and market their produce is significantly lower. This inequality of number of sellers and buyers results also in a huge gap of power when it comes to negotiating prices and other sales terms.

Herbs and spices producers are also challenged with poor infrastructure and few logistical resources. Many of them grow their crops in remote areas, which have few and poor roads or railways, and extremely slow or non-existing internet connections. This increases their productions costs, hampers their market access and makes them reliant on a limited numbers of traders that visit their area.

Unstable and extreme weather patterns as well as political instabilities also harden the prospects of many herbs and spices smallholder farmers and plantation workers to be able to provide for their families and send their children to school. They fuel price fluctuations and greatly increase the uncertainty of harvest and income expectations.

General Herbs, Herbal Teas and Spices Facts

  • Although only 50 types of herbs and spices are traded on a global scale, according to the UN's Food and Agricultural Organization, a lot more exist but only for local consumption. So if you travel to a new area, try to include an exploration of local spices into your tourist activities.

  • Herbs and spices can not only help you to transfer otherwise stale dishes and beverages into exotic sensual adventures, but are also praised as natural health enhancers and disease cures for an almost infinite amount of physical and mental conditions.

  • Saffron is historically referred to as the ‘spice of kings’. It requires considerable effort to generate large amounts of it and takes anywhere from 60,000 to 250,000 flowers to extract one kilogram of its dried form. Most saffron is grown in Iran, followed by Spain, but you can find smaller amounts also in rather unexpected places such as Switzerland.

  • The name of rooibos, a popular herbal tea, originates in Afrikaans and means ‘red bush’ in reference to the plant the leaves are taken from. Unsurprisingly, South Africa is one of the dominant spots for rooibos cultivation.

  • While the spiciness of a spice is commonly measured by subjective impressions, fans of more exact figures might find the Scoville scale, named after American pharmacist Wilbur Scoville, appealing.  It measures the spiciness of Capsicums (chillies) in Scoville heat units or SHUs.

Buying and Selling Fairtrade

Fairtrade products are sold in over 130 countries. For more information on Fairtrade near you, visit Fairtrade Near You or select one of the countries in blue on the map below. If you’re interested in selling Fairtrade or sourcing Fairtrade products in your country, see our information about selling Fairtrade.

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