Kochi: A Rs600 crore programme for replantation and rejuvenation of cardamom is awaiting the government’s nod. The scheme will, over five years, cover nearly 45,000 hectares (ha) and is expected to generate an income of nearly Rs990 crore.
V.J. Kurian, chairman of the government trade promotion body Spices Board, said he was expecting an early clearance for the project. Jairam Ramesh, minister of state for commerce, said clearance for the scheme was expected before the end of September.
However, it could take another year for the board to implement the scheme as it will have to ready necessary replantation material.
Kurian admitted that the board needed time for preparation, but added that the replantation would have to commence before next year’s monsoon. Any delay in clearing the project, then, means putting off the project by a year. Kurian said the government was aware of this and was likely to clear the scheme immediately.
The cardamom industry has been plagued by swings in prices and production resulting in uncertainty in income for thousands of growers. A perennial crop with a gestation period of two to three years, when the farmer does not get any return, cardamom—like tea and coffee—has been facing a serious problem of senility (or plants that are too old).
This has led to low productivity and low income. The many small farmers growing cardamom are reluctant to forgo even the small income they currently get, something that makes the replantation exercise more complex.
In some cases, and especially in Kerala, plants have fallen victim to viruses. The only solution in these cases is to replant the entire estate, not just remove the affected plants.
The rejuvenation and replantation scheme for both small and large cardamom is aimed at addressing these issues across cardamom plantations in Kerala, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Sikkim and the Darjeeling district of West Bengal.
While replantation would involve planting new cardamom plants in the entire area under cultivation, all that some plantations need is rejuvenation. This involves filling gaps within cardamom plants with new seedlings and proper maintenance through irrigation and the use of fertilizers.
The total area under cardamom in India is 73,228ha with Kerala accounting for 65%, Karnataka 30% and Tamil Nadu 5% of the area. Production of the spice during the last five years has almost stabilized at the 11,000 tonnes-a-year level.
According to the Spices Board scheme that awaits government approval, an eight-year cycle is considered the ideal rotation period for replanting cardamom. Accordingly, the board proposes to replant 10,000ha in Kerala and Tamil Nadu and 19,958ha in Karnataka.
Under the rejuvenation programme, the board proposes to cover 15,000ha in Kerala for a period of three years starting from 2007-08. Karnataka has been kept out of this owing to the prevalence of diseases which calls for total replanting.
Since the gestation period differs in different states, the period for Kerala and Tamil Nadu has been fixed at two years and three for Karnataka.
Under the replanting programme, farmers in Kerala and Tamil Nadu will be subsidized to the extent of 33% of the cost for holdings up to 4ha and 25% up to 8ha.
In Karnataka, these limits are 50% and 33%, respectively because a large number of holdings in the state are relatively small.
Large cardamom is mainly cultivated in Sikkim and Darjeeling. Most of the growers in these regions are from scheduled tribes and castes and other backward categories.
The total area under cultivation in Sikkim is 26,734ha and in Darjeeling, 3,305ha. The production in these two states was 4,300 tonnes in 2006-07.
The board proposes to replant 10,000ha in these two states in the next five years and rejuvenate another 10,000ha. The subsidy proposed for both is 50%.
The board expects the government to sanction Rs211.35 crore towards payment of subsidy to growers. The remaining amount that will come in the form of grants and own funds of the growers will be through banks and financial institutions with whom the board is already in talks.