By-Khagendramani Pradhan :Large Cardamom is as synonymous to Sikkim as Tea is to Darjeeling. It is the main cash crop of the State. Sikkim is one of the major producer and exporter of this crop. Till recent time, Sikkim was the only player in the global production and export of large cardamom. Official figures indicate that the production and export had surpassed a record of five thousand Metric tons of which bulk was exported to Gulf and Central Asian countries and Pakistan. However, the production has declined almost to half, though the areas under cultivation have increased substantially. The guiding factors underlining the decrease has been attributed to outbreak of viral diseases Chirkey and Furkey that destroy the plant.
A member of Zingiberaceae family, large cardamom is generally used as a spice and in several medicinal preparations. The crop is grown under the shade of forest trees in the sub-Himalayan Mountains at an altitude ranging from 1000 to 2000 metres above the sea level with rainfall of 3000 to 3500 mm distributed in about 200 days a year. Cultivars suited to higher altitudes can tolerate lower temperatures also, while deep, well drained soils with loamy texture is best suited. Presently, there are five species or cultivars viz. Ramsey, Sawney, Golsey, Varlangey and Seremna that are grown in Sikkim.
Being the major cash crop of Sikkim, the cardamom cultivation has been incorporated in the component of Technology Mission under the program of the Government of India, which aims at ensuring adequate, appropriate, timely and current attention to all the links and achieve horizontal and vertical integration of these programs. The mission also aims to promote ecologically sustainable intensification, economically desirable diversification to maximize economic and sociological benefits. Apart from this, the mission intends to promote development and dissemination of eco-technologies based on the blending of traditional wisdom and technology with frontier knowledge such as bio-technology, information technology.
Presently there are approximately sixteen thousand growers of large cardamom among which thirty percent are totally dependent on this crop. It covers around 26 thousand hectares of land under cultivation.
The Technology Mission for cardamom in Sikkim focuses on area expansion along with increase in production and productivity of this cash crop. After its initiation, the mission has been successful in establishing over 150 nurseries to provide certified seedlings to the cardamom growers. So far it has achieved an additional increase of nearly five thousand hectares under the area expansion program. Besides providing regular training to the growers for better management of the field, it has also undertaken a task of baseline survey to ascertain the exact area of healthy plants and those destroyed by the disease.
Strategies for improvement of production has been chalked out under the mission and trainings are being imparted to the growers towards better management of the crop along with introduction of high yielding varieties, mass replanting and controlling of disease and pests.
Similarly, improved curing or drying techniques are being made available to the growers with substantial subsidy to ensure better quality and appearance. The Spices Board of India under the Ministry of Commerce which has been working closely with the cardamom growers for past several decades has also been regulating the market and price factors. Growers are being encouraged through remunerative prices for cardamom cured and dried in improved bhatti or drying methods, which has better appearance and oil content than that dried through traditional method.