Over the years people in the southern dzongkhags have turned their land into cardamom orchards leaving little space for vegetables.
Cardamom is a highly priced cash crop. However, with the rise in production and quality of cardamom, the price has fallen sharply over the years, worrying farmers in Sarpang and Tsirang.
This year the price has dropped Nu 400 a kilogramme (about Nu 16,000 for 40kg), which is the lowest farmers have sold their products so far. At one time about three years ago, some farmers in Sarpang fetched Nu 2,000 a kilogramme for the spice.
Farmer Amber Bahadur Mongar, 48, in Chudzom gewog harvested 288kg of cardamom last year. He sold the produce for Nu 700 a kilogramme. The previous year he harvested 120kg and fetched Nu 450 a kilogramme. Although the price fluctuated, his cardamom production more than doubled.
He is yet to harvest cardamom this year from his 3,000 plants. “I’m expecting a little more harvest this time,” he said. “But I am sad about the fall in price.”
The farmers said that at least 24 labourers have to be hired for bush cutting twice a year, weeding and harvesting. The current rate of hiring a day labourer is Nu 500. With all the hard work and effort put into cultivating cardamom, the drop in price discouraging, he said.
Besides the drop in price, cardamom farmers also face difficulties in finding a better market. While some sell it to brokers who come to villages soon after the harvest, others take it to the Indian merchants in Gelephu who buy it at a lesser price.
For a cardamom growers in Tsirang’s Barshong gewog, Man Bahadur Mongar, the drop in cardamom price is disappointing. However, he said it is at least better than the price of a kilogramme of butter, which requires more effort than cardamom.
He suggested that instead of farmers struggling to find a market that offers better price, the government could intervene to help farmers sell their produce. “That way farmers need not worry about finding buyers,” he said.
Farmers also expect the Food Corporation of Bhutan in Gelephu to begin auctioning cardamom. This is for the convenience of the farmers as well as for proper channelling of cardamom market.
Meanwhile, farmers of Tsirang, Dagana and Sarpang are today busy harvesting cardamom. They expect the current market price to improve before they bring their produce to the market next month.
Nirmala Pokhrel |Tsirang