With the mercury rising, the cardamom farmers are facing a crisis of drying and withering of plants where irrigation facilities are not available. This is in addition to the low prices with high fluctuations prevailing in the auction centres.
There are thousands of small-scale cardamom farmers in Udumbanchola, Devikulam and Peerumade taluks in the High Ranges of Idukki. The small scale farmers are worst affected as they cultivate the crops in areas where sprinkling facilities and water availability is less in addition to the lack of natural shade provided in the cardamom Hill Reserve areas where large plantations are located. Moreover, the small scale growers are facing the crisis of labour shortage and high wages as they depend on the unskilled workers from the unorganised sector.
It is estimated that crop in over 100 acres are already damaged with the rising mercury during the day time and the low temperature with heavy fog experiencing during the night time. Hundreds of farmers in the three taluks shifted to cardamom cultivation when other cash crops like pepper failed due to the falling prices and low production. The prices which rose to Rs 1,800 per kilogram also attracted the farmers to shift to cardamom cultivation in areas where other crops were cultivated. Now the average price per kilogram is Rs 500 and the small-scale framers sell the produce to the middlemen.
With the mercury rising, many farmers erected temporary shades and water the plants through manual methods. However in areas where water availability is less, the farmers are left with no option but leave the plants for drying itself.
“I shifted to my three acres of the four acre-pepper cultivated area for cardamom after the former became unviable due to low production level and low prices,'' said Thomas George of Nedumkandam adding that over 100 plants cluster in two row of the outer areas have already damaged. “It is not possible for me to provide temporary shades and the situation was also aggravated by the non-availability of water,'' he said. If the summer rains fail more than half of the plants will wither, he said.
It is also impossible to engage outside labourers as the wages are between Rs 250 and Rs 300, he said adding that farmers have to afford loss when the price level falls below Rs 600 per kg in consideration of the labour charge, prices of pesticides and fertilisers.
Rajappan K.K., another farmer in Kumily, said that he is highly concerned about the low prices and nearly one-third of the three-year old cardamom plants in his two acres already withered in sun-burn. A large number of farmers had shifted to cardamom cultivation where it was not traditionally cultivated when the prices rose. An official of the Cardamom Research Station, Pampadumpara, said that the cultivation of the plants in areas without considering water availability and natural shade is a reason for plants loss. In the last monsoon period also the crops decay were high and farmers' ignorance of pesticide application also result in withering of plants, he said.
K.K. Devasia, executive secretary of Cardamom Growers Association, said that the large scale arrival of the cardamom in to the auction centres was the reason for low average prices of Rs 500 to Rs 600. He said that the prices which fell down to Rs 450 picked up after getting export orders in addition to the high demand from the North Indian firms.