Farm­ers lose hope as car­damom crops fail

Business Bhutan - - Nation - Kr­ishna Ghal­ley from Samtse

It is four in the evening. The day is grad­u­ally giv­ing way to dusk. Thick clouds sur­round the en­vi­ron­ment. The whole day has seen driz­zling rain, not a beam of sun­light is in sight.

Khamba Singh Ghal­ley, af­ter hours of tir­ing la­bor calls it a day. He re­turns from his car­damom or­chard look­ing weary. Not only be­cause of the hard la­bor he has done but be­cause of the har­vest he ex­pects this year. “Car­damom has served us well but now it is time to bid farewell to the crop,” he sighs re­mov­ing leeches from the muddy gum­boots he is wear­ing.

Khamba Singh has lost hopes of sur­viv­ing on car­damom earn­ings alone now. The other vil­lagers have de­vel­oped sim­i­lar feel­ings af­ter the har­vest started de­creas­ing an­nu­ally.

Khamba Singh spends most of his sum­mer cul­ti­vat­ing car­damom. It has helped him fi­nan­cially. Earn­ings from car­damom had helped him ed­u­cate his chil­dren and cel­e­brate ma­jor fes­ti­vals for more than five years un­til re­cently when the har­vest fell. The de­creas­ing yield is a con­cern for all the vil­lagers of Lapt­sakha, Khem­pa­gang and Pan­bari of Samtse.

Mul­ti­ple dis­eases have at­tacked the so called `sen­si­tive’ crop across the coun­try.

Car­damom cul­ti­va­tion had gained pop­u­lar­ity and spread like wild­fire across the na­tion ow­ing to its bumper har­vest and niche mar­ket in the last decade.

How­ever, over the past few years, the yield and price of car­damom has de­ceived these de­lighted farm­ers. Now, the farm­ers worry over its de­clin­ing yield and the slumped prices. Re­cent years have seen a yield that has de­creased by more than half ac­cord­ing to the farm­ers. The car­damom farm­ers have cul­ti­vated the crop in al­most on all their farm­lands spar­ing only their houses.

The craze for cul­ti­va­tion height­ened with in­crease in mar­ket prices and ac­ces­si­bil­ity. No land was left fal­low and the farm­ers went to the ex­tent of cul­ti­vat­ing on Gov­ern­ment Re­serve Forest and other ar­eas il­le­gally. Ev­ery fam­ily in the vil­lage owned car­damom or­chards then. They skipped other sta­ple crops like ce­re­als and veg­etable cul­ti­va­tion. The talk those days used to be only about the prices and the quan­tity of car­damom har­vested. Most had for­got­ten to cul­ti­vate other crops. The farm­ers were a rich lot.

Five years ago, car­damom price had reached up to Nu 2,000/ kg. And some earned up to Nu 2mn an­nu­ally from car­damom. Ev­ery farmer could earn a min­i­mum of Nu 5,00,000 an­nu­ally.

In fact, car­damom helped the farm­ers fi­nan­cially to ed­u­cate their chil­dren their chil­dren, im­prove liv­ing stan­dards and cel­e­brate ev­ery fes­ti­val lav­ishly over the years. The high earn­ings helped farm­ers to buy their own ve­hi­cles par­tic­u­larly Boleros. Some had mul­ti­ple Boleros. Their earn­ings en­cour­aged them to take loans from the banks to buy ve­hi­cles hop­ing to re­pay from the earn­ings. “Peo­ple thought they could re­pay up to Nu 1mn within two or three years,” said Khamba Singh Ghal­ley from Pan­bari. Pan­bari and Khem­pa­gang un­der Tad­ing gewog alone once had more than 60 Boleros.

Some even lost lives learn­ing to drive on the newly con­structed and un­paved Samtse Phuentshol­ing high­way af­ter buy­ing ve­hi­cles. Lapt­sakha Chi­wog Tshogpa Gun Raj Ghal­ley said that around five ac­ci­dents have oc­curred in the last five years.

Rup Ku­mar, 36, from Lapt­sakha had bought three Boleros two years back. Now he has sold two. He had to pay Nu 27,500 per month to the bank. “The yield those days were fa­vor­able. I was con­fi­dent, I would make timely re­pay­ment but car­damom be­trayed me and I was com­pelled to sell my ve­hi­cle.”

The mar­ket price to­day has fallen dras­ti­cally and fluc­tu­ates be­tween Nu 400 and Nu 500 a kg. To­day, these are the same farm­ers who are wor­ried about in­come from car­damom cul­ti­va­tion. While dis­eases like Blight is wip­ing out the crop, the drop in prices is mak­ing farm­ers mis­er­able. It has been more than three years since farm­ers no­ticed their plants in­fested by blight.

How­ever, farm­ers claim that four types of dis­eases have in­fected their crop. They say that the leaves dry af­ter the roots rot. Also a dis­ease which they lo­cally call `Furkey’ has be­come a com­mon cause of de­clin­ing yield. The farm­ers have lost hope af­ter failed at­tempts to save the crop. “We tried nu­mer­ous meth­ods. We up­rooted them and started new plan­ta­tion. But the same dis­ease is af­fect­ing it,” said Aita Raj Bhu­jel, from Khem­pa­gang. He said ear­lier it was easy to spend Nu 1,000 but now he has to think twice be­fore spend­ing Nu 100.

Even in Dorokha, the yield has fallen, wor­ry­ing farm­ers. Though with a road, it has be­come eas­ier for the farm­ers to reach the prod­uct to the mar­ket T.N. Phuyel from Dorokha said that the har­vest is so low they do not have enough to sell.

Now, peo­ple have started recul­ti­vat­ing other crops and veg­eta­bles. They have been up­root­ing the car­damom crop in their fields. “With­out go­ing back to ce­real cul­ti­va­tion, our sur­vival is at stake. We have now con­firmed that car­damom is a past story. We have to look for ploughs and oxen which re­mained un­used for years,” said Mahin­dra Ghal­ley from Khem­pa­gang. He had planted 9,000 saplings on 10 acres of land which all died with­out har­vest.

Samtse Dzongkhag is one of the high­est car­damoms pro­duc­ing dzongkhags in the coun­try with 1,162 Met­ric Tons (MT) of car­damom har­vested in 2016 which fell to 1,008MT last year. In Samtse, car­damom is cul­ti­vated in al­most ev­ery part of the dzongkhag. Start­ing from Nor­gay­gang to Tad­ing gewog, farm­ers cul­ti­vate car­damom ei­ther large scale or small.

The dzongkhag agri­cul­ture sec­tor is em­pha­siz­ing post har­vest man­age­ment sys­tem for the farm­ers to groom the plants with­out con­crete rem­edy to re­sist the dis­ease. Dzongkhag Agri­cul­ture Of­fi­cer Ch­ogyal Norbu said that the sec­tor is en­cour­ag­ing the farm­ers to look for al­ter­na­tive crop­ping and con­tinue ce­real cul­ti­va­tion. “We are en­cour­ag­ing them to go for other cash crops like kiwi, av­o­cado and other veg­eta­bles which could earn,” he said. Also the dzongkhag is plan­ning to con­tinue to work on win­ter chili cul­ti­va­tion and start mass ba­nana cul­ti­va­tion.

Since car­damom thrived for al­most a decade ear­lier and was wiped out, Ch­ogyal Norbu said that the same thing could hap­pen again. “We are en­cour­ag­ing farm­ers not to rely too much on them. They should start grow­ing al­ter­na­tive crops for which we are ready to help them,” he said.

Car­damom dis­ease has spread na­tion­wide and with­out a solution, the only op­tion for the farm­ers is to look for al­ter­na­tive crop­ping. It is ex­pected to re­vive af­ter all the plants are wiped out, the land is left fal­low and cul­ti­va­tion is restarted af­ter some years.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Bhutan

© PressReader. All rights reserved.