How the floods changed the lives of cardamom cultivators in Idukki

Out of 40,000 cardamom farmer families in Idukki, almost 60% lost their crops in the floods and landslides, taking away their sole source of income.
How the floods changed the lives of cardamom cultivators in Idukki
How the floods changed the lives of cardamom cultivators in Idukki
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“I lost 80% of the crops,” says a poignant MJ Joseph, pointing to the wilted cardamom crops standing on the 2.5 acres of his farmland, which he has been tending to for the last 20 years. This is the situation of almost 60% of the cardamom farmer families in Idukki district after the floods and landslides in August 2018.

After Guatemala, India is the largest producer and exporter of cardamom, the third most expensive spice in the world. In India, Kerala’s Idukki district is the leading producer of this spice. But things took a turn for the worse in this agricultural sector when the flood waters stagnated the crops and eventually decayed the cardamom capsules.

Unlike other crops, cardamoms have to be harvested by hand, making it a labour-intensive process. It goes through a series of laborious process to finally end up in the markets.

Although the farmers get a good yield and income, this crop requires more attention and hence more expenses. “Before the floods, I would earn Rs 1 lakh from one-acre yield. I managed my other expenses using this income. But I also have to spend on labour wage, pesticides that have to be sprayed monthly, tilling the soil, because the yield depends on the amount of care we give in cultivating,” says Joseph, who is now watering the crops regularly, hoping to revive what is remaining in his field.

In the landslide-affected regions in the district, boulders, a copse of trees and debris occupy the roads, lanes and even the farmlands.

Benny Kunnel, a cardamom farmer, lost a major portion of one-acre cardamom field. His yield of cardamom crops, too, has reduced by 100 kilograms. “The landslides washed away the topsoil and the fields are covered with sand and debris. As a result, the soil has lost its fertility and is not cultivable,” he says, pointing to one portion of his barren field. 

Before the deluge, one kilogram of cardamoms cost between Rs 600 and Rs 1,000. Now, since farmers receive only 10% to 20% yield, the prices have gone up to around Rs 1,500 to Rs 1,700 per kilogram.

Although farmers expected to receive Rs 2,000 for their produce, traders in the industry wanted to keep the prices at a minimum, fearing market risks.

Another major hurdle that has compounded the crisis is the ban on cardamom export to Saudi Arabia due to the presence of pesticides.

Since cardamom plants are highly prone to diseases and pest attacks, farmers insist that they have to be used at least once a month. “Otherwise, our income will reduce and we will not get good cardamoms, which means, the market price will go down,” adds Joseph.

The farmers continue to struggle to get back on their feet, hoping for some government assistance.  

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