Farmers have started to grow the spice in paddy fields

Agriculture: Cardamom cultivation has spread like a wildfire in Dogap, an isolated settlement in Dophuchen (Dorokha), Samtse.

From one nook to another, the spice is growing in abundance and the estates have inched up-close to communal yards.

There are 80 households here that share commerce of cardamom.

Aum Gyem, 70, is among the experienced growers. “My plants have aged,” she said, enveloped in the shadow of her dark kitchen. “The newer saplings today bear more fruit.”

Picking stones from a basket filled with white dal, Aum Gyem and her daughter say there was not much harvest this season. They collected 38 kilograms of cardamom. There were times when the family harvested about 400 kilograms.

“The prices then were meager,” Aum Gyem recalls. “But that was 15 years ago.”

A kilogram of cardamom fetches Nu 1,500. However, people are not in haste. All families have stacked their aromatic harvests waiting for the price to climb a record high.

Most growers have not harvested much mainly because their inheritance tradition has caused a fragmentation of land. Locals say 80 households have grown to about 130 families today. At this rate, the highest a family has harvested this year is about 150 kilograms – 200 kilograms of cardamom.

Sangay Wangdi, a former army personnel is among the group that reaped less this year. Although fairly new to the business, he suggests hard work, patience, and timeliness were important elements that marked the culture of cardamom cultivation.

The 59-year-old has stored 40 kilograms to sell at the right time. That is all, he said, he had.

An irony also dwells in the Dogap community. Despite stretches of fields filled with the spice’s plants, their houses still wear a tired look. Not many have constructed concrete buildings.

Some have resorted to shacks while others live in ancient stone houses depreciated by age.

As cardamom farming picked pace in recent years, residents have shifted aggressively towards this occupation. Even paddy fields are not spared.

Including Dogap, the cardamom-growing trend has also infested many portions of paddy fields in other villages of Dophuchen. The spice is found to be more profitable than paddy.

Yadhunath Phuyel from Domphuchen said people have stopped working in the paddy fields given the growing intensity of cardamom farming.

“Villagers do not turn to work in the paddy fields if we pay Nu 300 to Nu 400 a day,” he said. “Even Nu 1,000 a day fail to attract village men to plough the fields these days.”

Maize farming in Dophuchen is also an exclusive indicator that cardamom has prevailed. Nobody grows maize today. None.

Yadhunath Phuyel who inherited a handsome size of land from his ancestors shared his tales. “I used to grow maize and oranges before,” he said

It’s been about two years since Yadhunath Phuyel planted cardamom saplings on about five acres of land. He has also capitalized on numerous small plots to cultivate the spice.

This shift has concerned those like 70-year-old Leela Ram Adhikari of Daragaon village.

“There are people who have stopped growing rice and maize today,” he said. “They are not even using facilities the government provide for irrigation.”

With his experience, Leela Ram Adhikari shared an incident about failure in cardamom farming. According to him, all cardamom plants had abruptly died in places like Dumtey and Sengden several years ago, leaving many destitute.

Although cardamom trade would mean laudable wealth, converting cultivable paddy fields has worried some section of the community. Poorly grown cardamom plants left deserted in the paddy fields are visible in Domphuchen and Dogap villages.

Cardamom growers say the plants need shade, which paddy fields do not have. Some say the harvest shrunk because the aging plants are unable to regain nutrients from the soil for the next cultivation.

There is also a concern of market stability in India and although negligible, there still is threat to food security.

But for now, Dophuchen people are optimistic. Their lush green cardamom plantations promise hope.

Rajesh Rai, Dophuchen