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General Characteristics

Almonds, though considered to benuts are technically the seed of the fruit of the almond tree, which is amedium-sized tree that bears fragrant pink and white flowers. The fruit,botanically referred to as a drupe has an outer hull and a hard shell with theseed inside.

Almonds are commonly soldshelled. Shelling almonds refers to removing the shell to reveal the seed.Almonds with their shells attached are called unshelled almonds. Blanchedalmonds are shelled almonds that have been treated with hot water to soften theseedcoat, which is then removed to reveal the white embryo.

Sweet almonds and Bitter almondsare two forms of almonds, of which sweet almond is the variety, which isconsumed directly or indirectly by humans as a food product. Bitter almond isslightly shorter and broader than sweet almonds and are mainly used forextracting almond oil and not consumed as food, as it is poisonous.

Chocolate confectionary, bakeryand snacking are the three major global categories for almond usage.

Global Scenario

The annual global Sweet almondproduction on shelled-basis has been in the range of 7 - 8.5 lakh tonnes in therecent years. Record crops and a steady increase in production were seen from2005-06 to 2008-09 (Almond crop year is from August to July). However, theoutput in 2009-10 is forecasted to dip on account of unfavourable climaticconditions.

United States of America is thesingle largest producer, consumer and exporter of Sweet almonds, with thecountry contributing to over 80% of the global almond production.

The state of California in US isthe most important producer of Sweet almonds, as this region is reported to beaccounting for 99% of the American production.

Nonpareil is the single largestvariety planted in California. Its production is reported to be 38% of thetotal output, followed by Carmel (12%), Monterey (10%), Butte/Padre (9%) andButte (8%).

The worlds largest almond handleris the Blue Diamond Growers Cooperative, which is located in Sacramento,California. Blue Diamond is owned by over two-thirds of California growers andmarkets one-third of Californias crop.

The other producing countries areAustralia, Turkey, Chile, European Union, China and India with a production of26,000 tonnes, 16,000, 9500, 79,800, 1,500 and 1,200 tonnes on a shelled basisin 2008-09. Spain is the single largest producer in the European Union.

The annual trade in almonds hasbeen around 4.6 lakh tonnes (on shelled basis) in the recent years. The majorexporters are US, Australia and Chile with exports of 4,40,000 tonnes, 12,300tonnes and 6,700 tonnes (on shelled basis) in 2008-09. European Union, India,Japan, Canada and Turkey are the major importers with imports of 2,00,000tonnes, 45,000 tonnes, 21,000 tonnes, 19,000 tonnes and 14,000 tonnes in2008-09.

While, the peak harvesting periodof the Californian crop starts from mid-August and extends till September thatof Australian crop occurs between February and April.

Indian Scenario

The ever-expanding middle classand increase in health awareness, has lead the growing consumption of almond inthe country in recent years. The annual rate of increase in Indias domesticconsumption of almonds is reported to be around 20%.

More than 95% of almonds consumedby Indians is imported with more than 80% of imports being sourced fromCalifornia. The other major country from which India imports almonds isAustralia. While, Indian imports in 2008-09 is reported to be above 45,000tonnes, the imports in 2009-10 are expected to rise to 50,000 tonnes.

India has to resort to imports tomeet almost its entire requirements as domestic production of sweet almonds isonly around 1,200 tonnes. The other almond trees present in the country are ofnon-descript variety and mostly produce bitter almonds.

India imports almonds with shellsand processes it domestically to obtain shelled almonds, unlike almost allother importing nations, which import shelled almonds. This is due toavailability of cheap labour and better appearance and lesser losses in manualshelling of almonds as against mechanized shelling.

Most of the manual shelling ofalmonds in India is undertaken at Bombay and New Delhi, from where the shelledalmonds are transported to other consumption centres.

The Indian festival season extendingfrom September to December is the peak consumption period for almonds, withmaximum demand witnessed in November. Thus heavy imports of new Californianalmonds are seen from September to meet the strong domestic demand during thefestival season. Imports from Australia pick up during April and May after theharvesting season in that country.

Major Indian Trading Centres

Mumbai, New Delhi

Market Influencing Factors

The domestic almond prices are areflection of global supply-demand fundamentals, with the annual production atCalifornia being the most important price determining factor.

The Indian traders keep a closetrack of the Californian crop progress with special focus kept on forecasts byUS agencies, weather, pest attacks etc. The United States Department ofAgriculture and the California Almond Board makes progressive assessment ofcrops, stocks, global supply and demand and releases regular reports, which arewidely looked upon by the global market to determine prices.

Domestically, stock present withtraders and the cost at which it has been acquired is the most important priceinfluencing factor.

The major importers and tradersof almond in India are well aware of the fundamentals of the domestic marketrequirements and are usually well-stocked to meet the annual festival demand.

Meanwhile, as almond is notconsidered as an essential commodity and there is no local farming communityproducing this crop, policy intervention in this commodity is very minimal.

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