New dawn: Lucrative returns from cardamom-farming boosts aspirations of locals in Gairimudi, Dolakha

Dec 15, 2016

Growing black diamonds in Gairimudi

“The face of Gairimudi village will change with farmers like us starting to grow these black diamonds in our fields,” says Kesari Tamang of the Putalikat settlement in Dolakha.

By ‘black diamond’, Kesari is referring to a new batch of cardamom plants that have now replaced Gairimudi’s once-ubiquitous millet and maize crops. She is one of the 20 farmers in Putalikat who have moved into farming cardamom following a five-day training session organized by the District Agriculture Development Office and local NGO ECARDS, and assisted by UNDP's Community Infrastructure and Livelihood Recovery Programme (CILRP) in Dolakha.

“The reconstruction of the four-kilometer-long Putalikat-Galenibesi irrigation canal with the support of UNDP/LRP has ensured an uninterrupted supply of water, prompting farmers to look for better alternatives in agriculture practices," says Bakra Bahadur Tamang, who led a user committee that completed the reconstruction work on the canal. While previously, a quintal of millet would have fetched Rs. 3,500 for farmers, now they can recoup the same amount selling just a kilo of cardamom.

Dolakha was the epicenter of the May 12 earthquake in 2015, and Gairimudi had been among those villages in the district that saw most of their houses and community infrastructures leveled by the impact. Locals had erected small sheds on their farms while awaiting the government’s help in reconstruction.

“The assistance from the government has come very, very late,” fumes Shanti Tamang, adjusting the basket of manure she is carrying. “In the meantime, the money we make selling cardamom will go into rebuilding our fallen homes,” she says. “The initiative has brought fresh hope to the community.”

Road to riches

Large cardamom, also known as Alainchi, is considered one of the most expensive spices in the world. It is native to Nepal and comprises a popular cash crop in the eastern part of the country—believed to have first been brought to Ilam in the mid-19th century—enjoying huge demand in neighboring India and beyond. At present, cultivation of the spice has spread to more than 38 districts, although Ilam, Panchthar, Taplejung, Sankhuwasabha, and Terhathum remain the major producers.

While countries like India and Bhutan are also making huge investments in commercial farming of large cardamom owing to its growing demand and continuous surge in price worldwide, Nepal is presently the largest producer, accounting for 68 percent of the international market. In fact, large cardamom is one of the major contributors to the country’s foreign exchange earnings. According to official statistics, exports of the spice were valued at Rs. 4.61 billion in the last fiscal year. In the previous fiscal year 2014-15 alone, shipments totaled Rs. 3.83 billion.

The prospects of commercial farming of large cardamom could not be clearer, but for the rewards to be extended to farmers, they need to be ensured the kind of technical support that is necessary to facilitate high-quality value-added production resulting in high-price sales.

Besides such assistance, efforts are also required to bring about an overhaul of the value chain, where, at present, farmers are found receiving far too little remuneration for their products in comparison to rates in the international market thanks to various brokers and traders. These layers of middlemen need to be cut out so that farmers can enjoy unfettered market access and their rightful share of the benefits.