Four years ago, Thinley Dorji gave up his job as a chef in one of the high-end hotels in Paro and returned to his village for good.
On his journey home to Sangbay Ama village in Haa, the first thing on his mind was cardamom.
The 29-year-old grew up in a family that thrived on growing the cash crop for more than 30 years.
From the sale, his family bought a large barren of mules that helped earn Nu 1,200 a day.
But all is not well in the cardamom business today.
Last year was one of the worst years in a decade for cardamom growers as the price for a kilogramme of cardamom dropped to Nu 500.
A study by the Department of Agriculture Marketing and Cooperatives (DAMC) showed that prices last year slumped between Nu 500 to Nu 800 a kilogramme against Nu 700 and Nu 1,400 in 2016.
Sangbaykha Gup Thinley said that the sudden drop in price of the crop has both growers and buyers worried.
“There were some buyers from Samtse who’d paid huge sum to book the orchards, but landed up with huge debt as the price of the produce fell,” he said. “This is likely to affect the prices of next year.”
Thinley Dorji said he is now planning to grow vegetables in polyhouse on a larger scale. “There is subsidy from the government. I want to try that and sell to the civil servants during off-season.”
But diversifying farming could be difficult for many farmers like Sukman Rai from Yaba village.
“The only thing we know besides being a porter is to grow cardamom,” the Yaba village tshogpa said.
He said in Yaba and Shama villages, one has to negotiate through cardamom plants to go to toilet. The farmers in his village even converted paddy fields to cardamom orchards.
Growing paddy and other crops, including vegetables has been relegated to the back seat.
A resident of Bebji, Kuenga said that although the land in the villages are fertile and suitable to grow all kinds of crops, people are today are totally into growing cardamom.
“But the problem today is there is no market for vegetables and other farm produce,” Kuenga said. Sangbaykha and Gakiling gewogs, both more than three-hour drive from Haa, were connected by motorable road only a year ago.
The status of the people in these communities is not measured by the number of cars or fancy mobile phones but by the area of their cardamom orchards. Kuenga is moderately rich in his village. He has about 1.5-acre orchard.
Residents of the villages of Sangbaykha and Gakiling, the two gewogs in Haa that grow cardamom, said that production has increased over the years but the quality is suffering.
The DAMC study on cardamom marketing said that study found local cardamom inferior to those from India and Nepal because of poor drying practise.
Haa’s agriculture sector supplied more than 500 seedlings last year and will supply more this year. The dzongkhag will supply a set of cardamom dryers each to Sangbaykha and Gakiling gewogs by March this year.
A set of the dryers cost Nu 50,000 excluding set up cost and labour charges.
Agriculture Officer Karchung said the fluctuating price has been a concern. “After installing the dryers, we hope quality of the produce to improve.”
Tshering Palden | Sangbaykha