Shortage of deft hands hits cardamom harvesting

Steep fall in number of labourers coming from Tamil Nadu to work in Kerala plantations

Updated - October 22, 2017 07:37 am IST

Published - October 21, 2017 11:30 pm IST - IDUKKI:

Cardamom plantations, the second largest employment provider after tea estates, are experiencing severe shortage of labourers following a considerable fall in the number of women workers arriving from Tamil Nadu daily.

An average of 10,000 workers from the border areas of Cumbom Valley used to come daily for work in the cardamom plantations through Cumbom Mettu and Kumily. However, for the past two months their number has fallen below 5,000. Planters in Vandanmedu say some 800 vehicles used to arrive daily at the plantations with labourers from Tamil Nadu. This has now fallen below 400. If the number further falls, harvesting will come to a complete halt here.

Harvesting of cardamom beans starts by July end and reaches its peak by September-October. However, many plantations experienced shortage of hands in addition to low yield and poor prices in the current season.

Peerumade tea plantations are experiencing similar shortage of hands as many families who were living in estate lines had gone back to their native places after a crisis hit the sector. Better opportunities in other sectors also prompted them not to return.

The cardamom sector is under severe stress because of low production and prices. Now, in some of the plantations harvesting is delayed for want of workers, especially on the Vandanmedu stretch of the Cardamom Hill Reserve (CHR) where the largest number of women workers is employed.

According to George Thomas, a planter in Nedumkandam, harvesting has been severely hit and there is no continuous supply of labour for the past two months. It requires some expertise in plucking ripened beans and traditional women workers are now in short supply. “Machines are used to pluck tea leaves these days. But for cardamom, each bean is hand-plucked and it is highly labour-intensive,” he said.

A delay of even two or three days would severely affect the yield as it is sensitive to pest attack and decay, said Santhosh, a farmer in Kattappana..

The labour shortage is not just confined to the major and medium cardamom plantations. Even farmers who own land less than five acres are facing the problem. “The workers from Tamil Nadu used to work for us after they finished harvesting on the main estates. Now, they are not available and we depend on locally available labour now,” said Purushothaman Pillai, a small-scale farmer at Anavilasam.

Low price

Since the start of this month the average price has not crossed ₹1,000 a kg. At the auction held at the Spices Park, Puttady, on Tuesday, the average price per kg was ₹928.

The Cardamom sector plays a pivotal role in the local economy of the High Ranges.

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