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Positioning large cardamom as an HKH mountain niche product will be key to bolstering its global demand
Large cardamom is an important cash crop for marginal farmers in the Kangchenjunga Landscape, which is shared by Bhutan, India, and Nepal. It significantly contributes to the economies of all three countries – the second highest crop export revenue in Bhutan in 2019, the second highest contribution to household income in Sikkim in 2016, and 3% of Nepal’s total export revenue in 2019. Cardamom cultivation is ecologically friendly, requires relatively minimal labour intensity and external inputs, and is suited to the landscape’s conditions. These benefits likely drove many farmers to heavily invest in cultivation, such that in recent years the cultivation area has increased exponentially.
However, this momentum has waned. Huge fluctuations in both yield and market prices due to climate variability and uncertain supply–demand conditions, along with stiff competition from different varieties and species of cardamom from other regions, have made production and trade difficult for cardamom farmers in the landscape.
A collective effort is essential to harness the immense opportunities in cardamom production in the landscape. To forge collective action, we organized a regional policy dialogue in Taplejung, Nepal, in May 2019 to initiate discussions among stakeholders on risks and solutions. The stakeholders discussed improving yield and diversifying livelihoods by using a package of practices developed by ICIMOD (see box). Through a consultative process, they also prepared a list of recommended actions.
The stakeholders identified germplasm exchange and research on production practices to improve yield. This includes the promotion of climate- and energy-smart practices; improved drying technology options; and facilities for long-term storage and warehousing.
Perhaps the most significant recommended action was branding the commodity to carve space in the global market. The stakeholders agreed that the geographical origin of production – indicating unique benefits, cultivation practices, and producers – needs to be prominently featured while marketing large cardamom.
A common realization was reached that a landscape-level large cardamom farmers’ association could help promote large cardamom as a niche product from the Eastern Himalaya. Such an association would be instrumental in developing coherent regional production standards and certification and preparing a roadmap for a collective approach to production, income diversification, and marketing.
We are committed to such grassroots organization and have also been involved in providing policy inputs paving the way for the prioritization of large cardamom projects under the Nepal Trade Integration Strategy by the Ministry of Industry, Commerce and Supplies and to the European Union–Bhutan project “Export diversification for economic growth and poverty reduction”. Significant learning and technological transfer related to making bags and spice products from large cardamom have been taken up in Sikkim.
Farming communities across Bhutan, India, and Nepal are hopeful that large cardamom production and demand can be revived. Our efforts have laid the groundwork to begin mobilizing farmers’ groups in the landscape; fostering exchange of traditional and modern knowledge and technologies; marketing the commodity as a niche mountain product; and integrating scientific findings with ongoing agriculture and trade development initiatives across the landscape.
Our package of cardamom cultivation practices includes simple and affordable climate-resilient practices for reducing risks and diversifying income, such as integrating beekeeping, horticultural crops, and livestock in the cardamom farming system. The package also suggests improving yield through conservation of effective pollinator species.
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