Agriculture: In Chongeykha-Dophulhaka chiwog of Phuentsholing gewog in Chukha, villagers do not keep kitchen gardens.

They grow cardamom instead.

Cultivation of cardamom has picked during the last decade in Chongeykha-Dophulhaka chiwog. Almost every household grows the cash-minting crop in their yards today.

Paddy cultivation and other crops, including vegetables, have been relegated to the back seat. While the majority are not concerned by this move, there are a handful who are alarmed.

The Ganglakha-Dungna gewog connectivity road that connects Chongeykha, is currently still severed due to the heavy rainfall in July.

The resulting situation has confirmed the fears of the few. Without connectivity, the risk of depending on cardamom has been exposed.

From rice to oil, everything is being transported from Phuentsholing. People are currently struggling to transship such necessary food items.

It is not only in Chongeykha where cardamom has replaced other farming activities. Villages in Dungna and Metedkha are equally drawn towards cardamom.

With the road condition severed, people from both these gewogs are also transshipping necessary food items today.

An experienced cardamom grower from Dophulhaka, Dhan Bahadur Chhetri, 52, said although the lands in the villages are fertile and suitable to grow other crops and vegetables, people are today investing significantly in cardamom cultivation.

“Even if it is a small piece of land, they will grow cardamom,” he said. “This is not good for the future.”

Dhan Bahadur Chhetri said that it is not only the cardamom prices that keep fluctuating and have sudden impacts but that the crop is also being affected by diseases nowadays.

“If a farmer harvested 17 bags of cardamom some years ago, he would harvest only 10 today,” Dhan Bahadur Chhetri said, adding that the diseases have hampered the harvest drastically.

One bag of cardamom weighs around 40 kilogrammes and is commonly called a mon.

According to people in Chongeykha-Dophulhaka, two types of diseases have been infecting the cardamom. In one, cardamom leaves, either turn white or black and die eventually. In the other, the root of the plant is affected with small and numerous parasite plants that kill the main plant.

A farmer, Mangal Dhoj Rai, said that the yields of the harvests have decreased significantly after the cardamom plant leaves changed colour. “I used to harvest 10 bags but it is just three bags these days,” he said.

Mangal Dhoj Rai said that while people do grow other crops, they do so only in small quantities. Everything is purchased from the market, he added.

After 25 years of cardamom cultivation, another cardamom farmer, Tham Man Rai, said diseases are bound to occur. However, he pointed out that there is need for more irrigation channels so people can cultivate paddy on a larger scale.

The price of cardamom is another factor that have people worried. “Cardamom prices have been decreasing each year,” he said, adding prices will again fall this year.

“Maybe this is because more people are in competition,” he said. “More people means more harvest when the demand is still the same.”

Cardamom growers fetch between Nu 1,500 to 1,700 per kilogramme in good times. However, with many middlemen involved, prices keep fluctuating in the market. The cardamom is traded in Phuentsholing.

While many villagers cultivate paddy, it is not on a scale as large as cardamom. However, there are some like Dhan Bahadur Chhetri, who give equal importance to growing rice.

Although cardamom plants grow near his home, a large stretch of paddy fields is also apparent. Dhan Bahadur Chhetri will not need to buy rice, even if the Ganglakha-Dungna road is cut off.

Phuentsholing gewog agriculture officer, Gem Tshering, said that villagers in Chongeykha and Dophulhaka grow vegetables only in winter.

“Seeds are ready for the coming winter,” he said. “People will start taking seeds anytime from now.”

Gem Tshering also said that they have advised people to keep their paddy fields as it is and not convert them into cardamom fields.

Rajesh Rai | Chongeykha