Cardamom production in the State is likely to dip significantly this year with the crop cycle witnessing serious disruption due to shortage of labour and heavy rain.
COVID-19 curbs have resulted in shortage of hands to maintain cardamom holdings. While workers from north India are available, their lack of experience has been an issue. At the same time, workers from Theni district in Tamil Nadu have been hit by pandemic restrictions, said Muthusami Murugan, professor and head of the Cardamom Research Station at Pampadumpara under the Keala Agricultural University.
He said around 10,000 workers moved in and out of cardamom plantations in Kerala on a daily basis. But COVID-19 restrictions affected garden maintenance that should be completed in a regular cycle.
Kerala has around 50,000 hectares under cardamom cultivation, and the annual average production is around 20,000 tonnes. It is estimated that there are around 35,000 families accounting for over 60% of production.
Joseph Karukapally, a supplier of fertilisers in cardamom cultivation areas, said the disruption in cardamom auction had led to confusion over prices. However, auction has now been restored.
Dr. Murugan said there was a chance of production dipping this season owing to disruption in plantation operations and maintenance. While shortage of labour was a reason, climatic conditions too affected operations. Heavy downpour affects pollination of plants. Honeybees that help in pollination are unable to survive rains, he added.
T.D. Sabu, a farmer at Aanavilasam near Kumili in Idukki district, said the steep rise in the cost of labour had affected operations in cardamom holdings. He said the average wages had gone up to ₹600 per day, while the price of the best quality cardamom ranged between ₹1,000 and ₹1,200. He said production could be down to 25% to 30% this year because of various factors, including climate impact, and COVID-19 curbs. Fertiliser prices too had gone up. The price of complex fertilisers like NPK had climbed considerably, forcing farmers to curtail operations, he added.