Cardamom export to India has come to a complete halt since November 28.

Cardamom was still traded informally but the customs office across the border has now stopped the Bhutanese spice from getting through without the prerequisite documents.

Export of cardamom has been affected ever since the Indian Goods and Services Tax (GST) commenced on July 1, 2017.

This comes after the GST implementation had the customs offices install the computerised system called the ICEGATE in Jaigaon and other border towns that links trade to Bhutan.

The system asks for quarantine clearance and the Plant Quarantine Services of India (PQSI) does not issue the clearance for Bhutan cardamom. The clearance that Bhutan Agriculture and Food Authority (BAFRA) provides is not recognised.

Meanwhile, with the system in place, the demand for Bhutanese cardamom decreased in the Indian market and prices started plummeting in Bhutan.

Bhutanese officials have said that they are working on addressing the issues.

The agriculture ministry is also working on holding a meeting at New Delhi, BAFRA officials had told earlier.

In the market, owner of the Bhutan Export Business Line (BEBL), Rinzin Dorji, said farmers would be affected more than the exporters.

“Cardamom is their livelihood,” he said, adding that the disturbance comes right at the peak of the season. “The government should look at this matter.”

While the export to India has come to an abrupt halt, Rinzin Dorji also said that farmers should not bring cardamom for sale in the market.

“The price would drop further and farmers would suffer,” he said, explaining farmers should bring the cardamom in the market once everything is resolved.

Farmers were still selling cardamom in Phuentsholing yesterday. They were paid Nu 460 to Nu 470 a kilogram depending upon the quality.

A cardamom grower from Darla (Tala), Thinley, said farmers knew nothing of the situation.

“Prices have kept on decreasing since last year,” he said. “I don’t have that same interest to grow cardamom now.”

Thinley said cardamom growers invest Nu 350 to Nu 500 a person to work at the fields. “Three meals and occasionally alcohol is served,” he said. “Now the returns are dismal.”

Thinley has 23 bags of cardamom at home. Each bag is about 40kg of cardamom.

Singye Wangdi, a local exporter, said he is fed up of raising the issues related to cardamom and price.

“Now the customs have stopped the spice’s entry into India,” he said.

The general secretary of Bhutan Exporter Association (BEA), Tshering Yeshi, said they are concerned and hopeful that the government’s effort would resolve the issue.

“This issue has been there for more than one and a half years now,” he said.

Without the export and demand, Tshering Yeshi said farmers might end up selling at a minimal rate if they brought the spice in the market.

As cardamom is also largely exported to Bangladesh, exporters also pointed several reasons on the price dip.

In the mid of this year, cardamom dealers in Phuentsholing had raised that low-quality cardamom from outside Bhutanese territories entered Phuentsholing and was exported to Bangladesh.

Since Bangladesh has a waiver for cardamom import from Bhutan, exporters said few people brought the spice into Bhutan and exported in the Bhutanese brand.

A BEBL official, Yeshey Wangchuk, said the cardamom price in Delhi today ranges from Nu 750 to Nu 800. “The market has been distorted here.”

Singye Wangdi of Singey Import and Export said there are middlemen who are manipulating the prices in the market.

“We are forming a committee now,” he said, which would look into all issues related to cardamom.

BEBL’s Rinzin Dorji they are in discussion with the BEA for the committee. “It should help solve issues.”

Rajesh Rai | Phuentsholing