Farmers despair as cardamom prices plummet

Farmers who relied on cardamom for a decade now as their main source of income are crushed because prices this year have fallen to a record low.

A kilogram of cardamom, which used to cost Nu 2,000 earlier, costs Nu 480 now. Also, production has dropped by more than 70% leaving farmers devastated.

Profits from cardamom business had brought about a transformation in farmers’ lives over the years but slumping of prices and production has them considering returning to cereal production.

A 26-year-old farmer from Lalaykha, Chhukha harvested 680kg last year, the highest yield in his village. He sold his produce for Nu 750-Nu 1,500/kg earning close to Nu 700,000 with which he started constructing a house.

However, this year, he could harvest only 120kg and sold it at Nu 480/kg. He pays Nu 450 including three meals to the daily wage laborers who work in his orchard for a month.  Also, he pays Nu 15/kg as porter pony charge to reach his produce to reach Lingden, the nearest farm road. From here, he pays Nu 12/kg to the Bolero to reach Phuentsholing. Clearly, his expenses also make quite a dent in his profits.

“The era of cardamom is over,” he said, visibly depressed, “and so are my dreams.”

Cardamom had started flourishing in the southern belts and become a popular cash crop for farmers in almost every village. Chongeykha, Kungkha, Dophulakha, Lalaykha in Chhukha dzongkhag are prominent cardamom producers.

Farmers of villages connected with farm roads had also started purchasing utility vehicles especially Boleroes, providing services to villagers transporting goods to and from markets.

Living standards had improved drastically after the cardamom business boom. “Our lives changed swiftly. We started living like in towns. We started dreaming for more,” a farmer from Chongeykha said who now sees no further hope from the crop.

People had also started migrating back to villages leaving low-paid jobs in urban hubs with hopes to cash in on cardamom.

Bijay Rai from Sirina resigned from his job four years ago. However, even after huge inputs, his expectations were not met this year. He harvested only 200kg from three acres of land and sold the produce at Nu 600/kg.

“I would not have resigned if I had foreseen the state of cardamom business. I returned to my village with huge hopes but I feel cheated now,” said Bijay Rai.

Before cardamom, mandarin had been the prime source of income for the farmers. All major expenses including education for children, festival celebrations and wedding ceremonies were incurred from earnings from mandarin.

However, mandarin yield gradually declined, causing farmers to shift focus to cardamom cultivation.

“Sources for earning in villages are vanishing. Cardamom has really betrayed us,” said Nar Bahadur Ghalley from Chilauney whose yield halved to 80kg from 160kg last year. He sold his produce at Nu 550/kg last month.

While some farmers take their produce to Food Corporation of Bhutan (FCB) for marketing, most sell cardamom to the local dealers including non-nationals along the Indian border towns.

FCB after moving to online auction for potatoes is planning to promote the sale of cardamom online.

Marketing Advisor for FCB, Bhim Raj Gurung, said that works are already underway. “We are planning but it could take some time. It is expected to fetch better prices,” he said.

Krishna Ghalley from Phuentsholing