The processing and trade of spices has always been an important industry. The spice trade
still has a significant impact on the economy of many countries eg Grenada, Sri Lanka and
Indonesia. Small-scale processing of spices can be economically and socially successful.
Correct harvesting time
It is not possible to produce a good spice product from low quality harvested material. The
main obstacle to correct harvesting is the crop being picked immature. This is usually due to
fear of theft or the farmer requiring money urgently. However, every effort should be made to
wait until the spices are fully mature.
The crop should be cleaned before processing. The first stage is to remove dust and dirt using
a winnowing basket. This can be made locally from bamboo, palm or other leaves. Someone
used to this work can remove the dust, dirt and stones quickly and efficiently (eg they could
clean 100kg of pepper in an eight-hour day). Small machines are available for cleaning but
they are rarely cost effective.
After winnowing the crop needs to be washed in water, all that is needed is two or three 15 litre
buckets. For larger quantities a 1m sink/basin with a plug hole needs to be constructed. This
can be made out of concrete. However, the water must be changed regularly to prevent
recontamination of spices by dirty water. Only potable water should be used.
This is by far the most important stage in the process to ensure good quality spices.
Inadequately dried produce will lead to mould growth. The sale value of mouldy spices can be
less than 50% of the normal value. In addition the growth of food poisoning bacteria on some
spices is a real danger if proper washing and drying is not carried out.
Drying during the dry season
During the dry season, sun drying is
usually adequate to dry the produce. The
simplest and cheapest method is to lay
the produce on mats in the sun. However,
there are problems associated with this
method. Dust and dirt are blown onto the
crop and unexpected rainstorms can re-
wet the crop.
A solar dryer avoids these problems. The
simplest type is the cabinet solar dryer,
see Figure 1, which can be constructed
out of locally available materials (eg
bamboo, coir fibre or nylon weave).
Figure 1: Cabinet Solar Dryer