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Cardamom growers cut farm inputs

G.K. Nair

Effect of decline in prices

Kochi , April 25

Unremunerative price for cardamom in the 2005-06 seems to have forced growers to scale down agricultural inputs, which might negatively affect the crop next season.

The farmers have reduced the use of fertilisers, extended the interval for spraying, stopped earth work and pruning has also not been done on time, Mr T. Ashok Kumar, President, Kerala Cardamom Growers Union, told Business Line on Tuesday.

The decline in cardamom prices to around Rs 200 a kg, which is far below the remunerative levels of Rs 300 a kg, has inflicted a loss of an estimated Rs 120 crore to the growers, he claimed.

Providing subsidies

The price of fertilisers and pesticides has also gone up. For instance, the copper sulphate used for spraying with Bodo mixture has increased to Rs 110 a kg from Rs 60. Such an increase in price has forced "us to reduce its use by 50 per cent as spraying with Bodo mixture is a must," he said. The Spices Board does not give any subsidy for copper sulphate. The subsidy is available only for irrigation, soil conservation and replanting, and the amount is too little, he added.

Considering the plight of the growers, he said, subsidies for replanting, new planting, irrigation, curing facilities and rainwater harvesting projects should be enhanced, besides re-introducing subsidies for fertilisers and pesticides through the Board.

Cardamom production

The total production of cardamom in the country ranged between 11,500 tonnes and 12,000 tonnes from a total yielding area of 55,221 hectares, spread over Kerala, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu, during the past three years with an average yield per hectare of 210 kg in 2003-04.

Out of the 73,725 hectares under the crop in the country, 41,378 hectares is in Kerala. Kerala has 25,000 growers.

Of the cardamom holdings in Kerala, the average extent of a unit is 2.25 hectares. In Kerala's Idukki district, cardamom estates are predominantly smallholdings — nearly 98 per cent. There are only 49 estates in the district under the purview of the Plantation Act.

Cardamom is grown under the green canopy of forest trees, Mr Ashok Kumar said. Therefore, cardamom cultivation and conservation of forest are inter-dependent.

The Cardamom Hill Reserve (CHR), with an extent of 32,000 hectares of rainforests, has the Thekkady Tiger Reserve on one side and Eravikulam Nature Park on the other, close to the Kerala-Tamil Nadu border. The CHR is responsible for preservation and conservation of the climate and ecological conditions of a wider area, consisting of the Idukki, Kottayam and Ernakulam districts in Kerala and Tamil Nadu's Theni district.

He said that with the cost of agricultural inputs going up, increasing labour costs, erratic climatic conditions and depleting water resources necessitating heavy investments for irrigation and other protective measures, the cost of cardamom production has increased substantially. "The net result is that cardamom cultivation has become non-remunerative," he added.

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