Though India once had a virtual monopoly on small cardamom production and export, at present the largest producers of small cardamom are Guatemala and India while the smaller producers include Tanzania, Sri Lanka, Papua New Guinea, El Salvador, Lao PDR and Vietnam. Guatemala produces around 23000MT cardamom annually while Indian production is now pegged around 11500MT.Tanzania produces on an average 600MT per year. At present the area under cultivation in Sri Lanka is approximately 5400 hectares with about 700 MT production. The crop is now getting popular in virgin forest lands of Papua New Guinea and is restricted to private estate owners. Productivity is highest in Guatemala(about 350kg per ha.)followed by India(150kg per ha.).
With respect to large cardamom production,India(4000 MT),Nepal (2500 MT)and Bhutan(1000MT)are the leading players .Indonesia,Thailand,Cambodia,China,Lao PDR,Vietnam etc also account for some of the production. Since 2003 Indonesia is also emerging as a major producer.
Indian farmer Upendra Prasad Timilsina always craved for new farming techniques and this craving led him to explore the prospects of cardamom farming. As an experiment he started to grow cardamom in a cliff nearby his vegetable farm. The experiment failed to yield results for five years and it was becoming greatest disappointment for the family.
“Farming cardamom was a new thing for me. I started it with seeds brought from Ilam district as everyone rated cardamom seeds of Ilam highly. But every time I planted them, they did not grow. It was very discouraging,” he said, adding, “The failures accumulated loans, one after another. I once even contemplated committing suicide after being unable to repay the loans.”
The failure was so intense and debts so high that shopkeepers even refused to provide him a kilogram of sugar on credit. Such moments affected him so bad that Timilsina pledged to become successful no matter what. “Even if it means changing or modifying my ways of farming, I felt a strong urge to succeed. In this struggle against failure, I have been fortunate to get strong the support of my wife Kamala,” he shared.
Timilsina started his recovery phase by cultivating tree tomato (tamarillo), an egg-shaped edible fruit. He also got involved in orange farming. Tamarillo farming spread in the whole village and became a commercial success. Locals also started exporting tamarillo to Kathmandu Valley. At its peak, tamarillo grown there reached as many as 18 districts altogether.
“Tamarillo and orange farming made a combined profit of Rs 100,000 in the early years of initiation. At the same time, I also prepared cardamom’s seeds myself and borrowed insufficient ones from farmers of the villages. Profits from those farming enabled me to repay my loans eventually,” he said. “Since then, I never looked back. Success in the cardamom farming followed.”
District Agriculture Development Office (DADO), Kavre, later started helping the local farmers by providing them with technical help and skills development trainings. “Their help greatly aided in the production and marketing of cardamom plants. Farmers like us achieved more and more success after the help of DADO,” said Timilsina.
He said that demands increased for cardamom’s plant within and outside the district. After realizing the market prospects, Timilsina registered Fulchoki Multi-purpose Model Nursery and started commercially producing its seeds and plants. He proudly shared that he is preparing 400,000 plants for sale this year. “Last year, my firm failed to meet the market demand. The demand for the plants is overwhelming this year as well.”
Likewise, Timilsina’s brother, who has been in foreign employment since the past 18 years, has joined him in cardamom farming.
The cardamom plants produced by his firm are exported to Ramechhap, Dolakha, Sindhupalchowk, Dhading, Rukum, and many other districts of far western region. If cardamom plants get good fertilization, it bears fruit within 2-3 years, farmers said.
“At present, demands for seeds is higher than plants. We have been sending seeds to as far as Ilam, Bhojpur, Taplejung and Sankhuwasabha among other districts. We have also formed groups with the villagers in order to meet the ever growing demand of our growing market,” Timilsina informed.
With the returns from cardamom farming, Timilsina has built house in Dhulikhel. His two sons have been undertaking their higher studies in good schools of Banepa.
“I did not get to study properly. Now as my two sons want to study, I’m fully supporting them. However, we have agreed that they will not go abroad to work. We will go to foreign countries only as tourists to have fun, but we will work in our own farms,” he said.