Falling prices, higher costs hit cardamom farmers in Sikkim hard

Report by: 
DEEPAK SHARMA & SANJAY AGARWAL
MANGAN / RANGPO
23 Aug 2018

Falling prices of cardamom when the cost of production has gone up because of the emphasis on organic farming have put cardamom growers in Sikkim in dire straits. The setback has come when cardamom cultivation was just recovering from a severe attack from infectious diseases.
This is the time for harvesting of big black cardamom and West Sikkim has lately outstripped in cultivation of cardamom the North District which used to be the hub of cardamom cultivation and the largest cardamom-growing district in the country. But the smile of joy seems to have vanished from the faces of cardamom growers.
Till about a few years ago, cardamom used to fetch a price of Rs 50,000 a ‘maund’; that is for a bag of 40 kgs. For the big black variety, the prices could be even higher; seven to eight years ago even a price of Rs 80,000 had been recorded. Encouraged by the high prices, many farmers had taken to cardamom farming. But, now the prices have crashed to Rs 17,000 to Rs 23,000 for 40 kgs, putting the farmers in a quandary.
Cardamom has long been an important cash crop in Sikkim. In between the emphasis in Sikkim changed to organic farming, it became the first fully organic state in the country. Cardamom growers, too, switched to the organic methods of farming, but growers say this has increased their challenges. With sky-rocketing prices of all other products, the cost of production has increased. Growers had hoped that the price of cardamom, too, would increase but the opposite has happened, as an aggrieved farmer has said.
Production was depressed some years ago because of an infectious disease that hat hit cardamom plants and saplings. Farmers were helpless as even the Spices Board, the Indian Council of Agricultural Research and the Horticulture Department could not treat the plants and retrieve production. Ultimately, however, the farmers had managed to stabilize production. But now after resorting to the organic methods of production they have got into another problem.
One of the reasons for the fall in prices of cardamom is believed to be the disputes between India and Pakistan, because of which demand from the neighbouring country has gone down. Farmers selling saplings to neighbouring states like Assam and Meghalaya have also suffered because big businessmen working as middlemen were taking all the profits while the farmers were being left with a meagre amount.  Besides, the saplings could not flower in foreign soils, reducing the chance of sale of saplings to these states. Though the government has increased the rate from Rs 3 to Rs 5 per sapling, farmers in Sikkim wonder who would buy them: the government or farmers from other states.
Distressed farmers appeal to the government to keep a check on activities of businessmen so that they cannot take all the profit. Besides, Sikkim being an organic state the farmers should have a say in the prices of their products. The prices should not be left entirely to the market to decide.