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27 Feb 2016 | News

Enhancing the Large Cardamom Production

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Large cardamom (Amomum sabulatum Roxb) is the high value cash crop and main source of cash income for farmers in eastern Himalayan region including Eastern Nepal, Sikkim and parts of Darjeeling district in West Bengal of India, and Southern Bhutan. In Nepal over 21,960 households in 37 districts are engaged in its farming. Presently, Nepal is the largest producer of large cardamom with 68% share in the market, followed by India (22%) and Bhutan (9%). According to a news report 5,100 tonnes of cardamom were exported in 2012/ 13 from Nepal to overseas market. Taplejung, Panchthar, Ilam and Sankhuwasabha are the major cardamom producing districts producing over 80% of the total national production. Among these Taplejung is the largest large cardamom producing district having 4, 500 hectares are under large cardamom plantation producing over 2,400 tonnes worth 6 billion rupees (about 57 million US dollars).

But in recent years, large cardamom farmers in Taplejung have started facing a reduction in yield due to viral diseases like Chirke and Furkey and poor soil conditions. The Rural Livelihoods and Climate Change Adaptation in the Himalayas (Himalica) pilot is working in Taplejung district in partnership with the Environment Conservation and Development Forum (ECDF) to address the issue of declining large cardamom production through identifying and promoting sustainable production practices. The pilot is working with 300 households engaged in large cardamom production organised into 12 groups over 3 communities where tested climate smart production practices to improve their large cardamom yield are being demonstrated on 12 small plots.

A team from ICIMOD undertook a field visit to study the water availability and management practices and soil moisture related issues and identify climate smart practices for sustainability of cardamom production in Himalica pilot sites. The team visited two different sites and held discussions with several farmers to assess overall water management and soil conservation related issues in large cardamom farming.

The team found out that some farmers have started to integrate kiwi cultivation in their large cardamom farms which is one of the promising option for farm income in pilot villages. Besides, a few others have planted fast growing Paulonia tomentosa to provide shade for the cardamom plants, however, the suitability and usefulness of these practices needs further study.

The farmers informed the team that cardamom production is declining. This could be due to  rather old Alnus trees planted long time back that competes for nutrient or the lack of management practices for in situ soil moisture conservation, important for maintaining crop productivity on sloping land. Observations also revealed that in some farms cardamom was planted mostly on outward slopped terraces. Mulch was practiced, but it was not placed properly.  All farmers irrigate cardamom with sprinkler irrigation with water from the spring source located at upstream area, but the team didn’t find many running sprinklers during the visit except in one or two farms.

Some farmers said water availability is decreasing, many ponds have dried or filled with sediments upstream. As a result, downstream perennial springs become seasonal.

Maintenance, cleaning and sediment removal from the existing ponds and construction of new ponds will certainly improve the ground water availability useful to recharge springs and soil moisture of cardamom field.

The ICIMOD team suggested applying shallow pits, shallow trenches, grass plantation on the riser of a terrace, establishment of hedgerows,shallow drainage trenches, mulch, preparation of compost, and improvement of farm yard manure.

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