If Bhutanese cardamom growers want better prices for their produce, they have to work on the drying practices for the spice.

Department of Agriculture Marketing and Cooperatives’ (DAMC) recent study found local cardamom inferior to those produced in India and Nepal because of poorer drying practices.

“Poor drying practices is known to result in further quality deterioration during storage and transportation, inferior colour and other sensory characteristics of the produce,” the report stated.

The government continues to make technology interventions predominantly to improve the drying technology.

More than 60 improved cardamom dryers, fueled by wood have been established on cost – sharing basis with beneficiaries in Dagana, Tsirang, Samtse, Sarpang, Zhemgang, Chukha and Pemagatshel. Each of these dryers costs Nu 30,000.

Prices this season slumped between Nu 500 to Nu 800 a kilogramme against the price of Nu 700 and Nu 1,400 last year.

The study found that when compared to the prevailing auction prices of Indian cardamom at West Bengal and Sikkim from September 4 to September 11, local cardamom growers still fetched higher prices.

Indian auction prices ranged between Rs 488 – 525 a kg for chhota dana and Rs 600 – 675 for bada dana.

“The study indicates that while the price may have decreased slightly in 2017 based on the growers’ feedback, there are no serious issues considering the current prices, the cost of production and the market price for Indian cardamom,” the report stated.

The study inferred that because the export price for cardamom surged in 2014 to Nu 1,057 a kg and remained high in 2015 at Nu 1,110 a kg, growers must have had high expectations.

The cost of production of cardamom in Bhutan is Nu 292.39 a kilogram.

Triggered by high demand and a surge in price, cardamom production in the country soared from around 643 metric tonnes (MT) in 2012 to over 2,500MT in 2016. In 2010, growers produced 1,163MT of cardamom.

Export volume and value has increased along with the rise in production between 2010 and 2015, Bangladesh has been the bigger market of the two, but in 2016, exports to India were higher than it was to Bangladesh.

Diseased plantation was a challenge for growers a few years ago because of which the Department of Agriculture established a nursery at the National Seed Center in Gelephu, which is expected to produce 40,000 cardamom seedlings annually.

Cardamom is one of the commodities in the buy-back” programme fixing the ‘buy-back’ price of cardamom at Nu 540 per kilogramme for 2017.

Local cardamom growers cultivate a large variety, which was first introduced in the early 70s and has since become a major cash crop in southern dzongkhags, with total acreage reaching as high as 6,968 hectares in 1994. In 2015, the total area under cardamom cultivation was 4,293.73 ha yielding approximately 2,091 metric tonnes.

In 2015, more than 845MT of cardamom worth about Nu 940.85M was exported to India and Bangladesh.

Tshering Palden