Sikkim farmers get six-fold-high price for black cardamom

Gangtok, Jan 19 (IANS) Sikkim’s famed black cardamom has of late been giving its farmers a major economic boost. The price of the crop has soared more than six-fold in five years owing to intelligent intervention and grassroots efforts, according to officials.

The tiny hill state, which grows 90 percent of India’s black cardamom, commonly called ‘badi elaichi’, currently sells it at around Rs.1,600 a kg — as against Rs.250 a kg in 2010 — through auctions of the crop facilitated by the Spices Board every fortnight at the market hub of Singtam in east Sikkim.

From November 2015, the Spices Board has been supplying the crop’s growers information about the prevailing price in Sikkim, thus helping them avoid local middlemen who customarily pay them less.

“To ensure fast spread of the price information among the farmers, we text them market price all weekdays over mobile phones which all of them have these days,” said Spices Board chairman A. Jayathilak.

“We have a database of over 500 growers of black cardamom across Sikkim, where it is called ‘thulo elaichi’,” he says, referring to the Digital India spirit of the mission.

“Even as that number is increasing swiftly, we also put up the changing prices on our website. That is in English, but the SMSes are in Nepalese language as well.”

The price rise has had a cascading effect to the benefit of large-cardamom growers in other states in the northeast, besides Uttarakhand, said Jayathilak, who was here to attend the digital launch of the ‘Sikkim Organic’ logo by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Monday.

The board has also organised a buyer-seller meet (BSM) to facilitate selling of products by Sikkim’s farmers directly to exporters.

Over 40 spice farmers and 22 exporters and traders from across the country are taking part in the BSM which provides a platform for the spice growers of Sikkim to establish direct trade links with exporters and traders by avoiding middlemen.

The major spices grown in Sikkim have been tested for intrinsic qualities and pesticide residue in the board’s laboratory in Mumbai.

The results confirm that spices grown in Sikkim are rich in intrinsic parameters and has vast export potential as organic products, he said.

The Spices Board-facilitated auctions at Singtam, 30 km south of Gangtok, have buyers converging from across Sikkim as well as cities outside the state such as Kolkata and Siliguri (West Bengal) and Guwahati (Assam) to even as far as Indore (Madhya Pradesh).

The average quantity of black cardamom auctioned is 1.5 tonnes per auction which is conducted on a fortnightly basis.

The auction generally results in sales of minimum 50 percent of the production in the state, said Chandra Shekhar Ghatani, assistant director for marketing at the Spices Board.

The 1987-founded board, under the union commerce and industry ministry, next plans to facilitate e-auctions in Sikkim, says Jayathilak. “It should be on in six months or so.”

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