Small-scale growers affected; shortage pushes up labour charge
The cardamom plantations in the high ranges of Idukki district are facing severe shortage of labour. It is harvest time for cardamom plantations here but due to the labour shortage, the plantation owners in Udumbanchola and Peerumade taluks are depending on workers from Cumbum and other nearby areas in Tamil Nadu.
It is estimated that everyday nearly 250 jeeps ferry workers from Tamil Nadu, covering 30 km, to Vandanmedu, the main cardamom cultivation area in the district. In Sultania and Ayyarupara estates in Elamala, labourers are hired from the closed tea estates in Peerumade. The plantation managements pay the cost of transportation.
According to Nebu George, a planter, the harvest of cardamom is mainly female-dominated, and there is large need for trained labourers as the work requires some kind of expertise in harvesting. Cardamom planters compete with one another to hire the best hands. This has pushed up the labour charge from Rs.150 to Rs.200 and above
The need for skilled labourers is also high because of the introduction of hybrid varieties of cardamom saplings. The new varieties have high yield per plant and the time between two cropping seasons has also come down.
Mr. George says that the hybrid varieties need greater application of pesticides, as these plants decay quickly when compared to the low-yielding ones. Planters say that labour shortage has led to mechanisation. Pesticides are now sprayed using trip systems, and cardamom are dried using modern equipment. New techniques are also being used in clearing and grading the crop.
The small-scale growers are the most affected from the labour shortage. According to Joy Thomas, a small-scale planter, the harvesting work could not be completed as the small-scale growers cannot hire the labourers on a permanent basis. The shortage of workers is also affecting other agricultural works in the district.
According to Lalichan Antony of Arecheril, the mechanisation of cardamom plantations has driven away the male workers who were mostly employed for applying pesticides and drying cardamom. High remuneration in other works has made the work in plantations unattractive.