Nima | Gelephu

Farmers in Chhudzom and Jigmecholing gewogs in Sarpang are losing cardamom, the main cash crop of the gewogs, to an unidentified pest.

The pest attack was reported to the agriculture extension office a few days back.

In Sherubling chiwog of Chudzom, pests damaged cardamom in more than 20 acres of land.

Once infected, farmers said leaves of the cardamon plant start to dry.

A villager, Som Maya, said the pest infestation occurred in the chiwog for more than a month. “We never expected the infestation to be that bad.”

She said farmers’ income would be affected.

Sherubling tshogpa, Nima Tamang, said almost all cardamon growers in the chiwog are losing the crop to the pest. “The most affected are those grown in the forest that was cleared for the plantation. Last year, only two households faced the problem. This time the pest has reached all the lands”

He said farmers are confused and their livelihood would be affected if the pest attack were not controlled. “Cardamom is our main cash crop.”

Adding that the farmers were asking for the solutions almost every day.

Chhudzom gewog planted more than 600 acres of cardamom last year alone and the gewog produced more than 95 metric tonnes of cardamom, according to the record with the gewog agriculture extension office.

The gewog has 420 households of which 150 households are in Sherubling chiwog, currently facing the pest infestation problem.

The gewog extension office and officials are planning to spray neem oil, an organic solution to manage pest infestation today.

Nima Tamang said similar pest infestations in the past drove the farmers out of the village to the urban towns in search of jobs for a living. “Farmers are into vegetable farming but marketing is the main challenge. There are no buyers. We depend on cardamon for cash.”

Chhudzom gup, Bishnu Prasad Rai, said the pest infestation is currently in only one chiwog.

“The main source of income of the community would be affected if the problem continues. There are no alternative crops for cash, making farmers vulnerable.”

The gewog agriculture extension officer, Thukten Chophel, said they will assess the damage.

He said the pest infestation was mild last year.

“Using chemical pesticides are not encouraged as the gewog is identified for organic certification. We are planning to use neem oil but it could cover only a few areas.”

He said he consulted plant protection officials, who advised farmers to use green net to cover the affected areas and to irrigate the orchards properly. “There are no other solutions for now.”

Thukten Chophel said he did not expect the pest infestation to spread so fast.

Meanwhile, farmers of seven households in the remote village of Gongduegang and Gongtshekha in Jigmecholing gewog also lost cardamom to the pest.

Officials from Chhudzom said Sherubling and Gongduegang chiwog are located at a similar altitude and shared similar climatic conditions.

Jigmecholing Gup, Kumar Gurung, said the pest infestation is increasing daily. “Proper research would help farmers manage the pest.”

Edited by Tashi Dema