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A GI tag for the Kangchenjunga Landscape’s large cardamom

Syed Muhammad Abubakar, Basant Pant & Tashi Dorji

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A GI tag for the Kangchenjunga Landscape’s large cardamom

Large black cardamom (Amomum subulatum) is an important cash crop for the economies of all three countries in the Kangchenjunga Landscape – Bhutan, India, and Nepal. Cardamom cultivation is very suited to the landscape’s conditions, yet the three countries struggle to compete in a global market increasingly dominated by other cardamom species.
Given the demand and competitiveness of the cardamom market, Bhutan, India, and Nepal are uniquely positioned to capitalize on large black cardamom, a species that originated in the landscape. Large black cardamom can be marketed as a niche Himalayan product through a geographical indication (GI) certificate, which can help distinguish it from other cardamom species and establish a brand. The three countries can also collectively inform customers about product attributes by setting up common regional standards and creating a distinct product identity.

We organized a webinar to discuss the possibility of creating a GI certificate and developing common regional standards for large black cardamom in the Kangchenjunga Landscape. Representatives from the organizing institutions and senior government officials from Bhutan, India, and Nepal participated in the event. The main objective of the webinar was to identify action points to promote large black cardamom as a unique product from the landscape in the international market. The meeting was a follow-up to the regional workshop in May 2019, which emphasized exploring opportunities for transboundary collaboration for the large black cardamom value chain development.

Growing production, limited market visibility

Yogendra Kumar Karki, Secretary, Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock Development, Nepal, shared that the area under cultivation of large black cardamom in Nepal has increased but there are challenges in its effective marketing. He reiterated his ministry’s commitment towards the promotion of large black cardamom. Laxman Sharma, Associate Professor, Department of Horticulture, Sikkim University, suggested setting quality standards that can prove useful for GI, especially the need to introduce better varieties of large black cardamom with higher oil content. He also proposed establishing a quality evaluation laboratory in the landscape.

Pema Gyamtsho, Director General, ICIMOD, welcomed the positive response of government representatives from Bhutan, India, and Nepal to foster transboundary collaboration through large black cardamom. He pointed out that large black cardamom is not well-positioned in the international market and hence faces competition from green cardamom, white cardamom, and small cardamom. He hoped that swift progress can be made to distinguish, improve, and market the product from the landscape.

Right messaging

Surendra Raj Joshi, Senior Resilient Livelihoods Specialist, ICIMOD, delivered a presentation on promoting large black cardamom as a unique product. According to Joshi, from 2005 to 2016, the demand for large black cardamom has increased fivefold. However, at the same time, its share in the international trade is decreasing. He added, “It is imperative to create a common message to inform consumers about unique attributes, which can help to counter competition with substitute products. GI certification and common standards for large black cardamom can help distinguish it from green and white cardamoms.” Joshi also highlighted the various issues facing large black cardamom production: “It is vulnerable to disease. Though the areas of cardamom production have expanded, the yield has not significantly increased. It is compounded by weak market linkages with no value addition at the local level.”

Indu Bikram Joshi, Deputy Director General, Department of Environment, Nepal, presented on how GI certification has tremendously boosted the demand of Darjeeling tea, Swiss knives, and Scottish whisky, to name a few products, and a GI certificate for large black cardamom could hold immense significance for the Kangchenjunga Landscape and its people.

Path forward

The webinar also included a moderated panel session to discuss the next steps. Kinley Tshering suggested establishing a regional centre to promote large black cardamom. Hari Bahadur KC, Joint Secretary, Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock Development, Nepal, supported the initiative for securing GI certificate and hoped that it will benefit farmers. Rajesh Joshi, Regional Head, G.B. Pant NIHE, Sikkim Regional Centre, Sikkim, suggested increasing private investments, which could spur wider plantation of large black cardamom across the Kangchenjunga Landscape.

Nakul Chettri, Regional Programme Manager, Transboundary Landscapes, ICIMOD, suggested mobilizing available networks and institutions for bargaining power. He also suggested developing synergies between governments and relevant institutions, which can facilitate knowledge exchange. Chettri informed the participants that ICIMOD will publish a policy brief based on this webinar’s key takeaways. “The publication of a policy brief will allow us to have a common voice, which will put us in a strong position to make the case for a GI certificate,” said Chettri.

The representatives from Bhutan, India, and Nepal agreed to the key highlights of the draft policy brief presented at the meeting. As a way forward, the participants agreed on knowledge sharing, networking, and initiating mechanisms for the GI certificate, among other options.

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