Written by Sony KC.
In the past one decade, Salakpur village of Jirmale Village Development Committee (VDC) in Ilam district has gained its popularity due to a new species of cardamom farming. The species of cardamom is well known as Salakpurey Alainchi, thus giving a trademark to this village. Every agriculturist and cardamom farmers and experts blindly mention Salakpur as a top cardamom-producing village in Ilam. The popularity has spread widely across Nepal, since farmers from many districts including Kathmandu, Gorkha, Dhading, Dolakha, Dang and many others buy cardamom saplings from nurseries in Salakpur.
Apart from this, there were other species of cardamom such as, Bharlang, Chibesai, Ramsai, Golchai, farmed in Nepal since the 19th century. However, these species became extinct due to disease. Today, Salakpurey cardamom is the main species of cardamom farmed in Ilam and other districts.
The tale of farming and practice in Salakpur was not the same ten years back. Salakpur used to be a village prominent for ginger and oranges production and export. Overall, Jirmale VDC used to be the number one producer of ginger for export. Besides, households also produced rice for subsistence use. The agriculture and production fate of this village changed when disease infestation in ginger became uncontrollable and inevitable. Farmers lost their ginger to disease, despite efforts to save it and quickly adopted alternative measures, mainly cardamom farming.
While in one hand farmers took cardamom farming as an alternative to disease inflicted ginger farms, one the other hand they voluntarily replaced some crops. For instance, farmers shared about replacing rice fields with cardamom farms. While rice required excessive water for farming, cardamom requires less water. Also, the return from rice was very low compared to the high return from cardamom. When farmers could buy more rice by selling less cardamom, they chose cardamom over rice farming for better income source. This can be proved with the reported fact that 1 kg of rice would cost Rs 300 while 1 kg of cardamom would cost Rs 2000 and above.The actual story of how farmers in Salakpur managed to plant and flourish this species of cardamom is unknown. However, reflection from farmers reveals, while the battle with disease in ginger was on, few farmers who went to India [across Jirmale VDC is Darjeeling and Mirik, India] for a visit unknowingly brought saplings of cardamom. Since then almost every households in Salakpur are engaged in cardamom farming for livelihoods. Besides cardamom, farmers still produce and export oranges as a major fruit-crop.
“What could I do producing rice? It would only be enough to feed the household members. I can produce cardamom and not only buy rice but also oil, salt, clothes and meet other household expenses. Rice is rice but cardamom is more than only rice,” replied a cardamom farmer when asked why she replaced her rice farm with cardamom farm.
Overall, the return from cardamom seems to be more satisfying for the farmers than any other crops, in terms of livelihood. Farmers in Salakpur only wish to save this crop for long term. A cardamom cooperative was established three years ago in Salakpur with an aim to strengthen and sustain cardamom production. “Though much needs to be done to run this cooperative actively, we are glad we have initiated one at least,” reported the president of this cardamom cooperative. At present the cooperative functions by encouraging members to save along with provision of credit and loans for cardamom farming purpose. Farmers wish to gain more help from the cooperatives in terms of transport of goods to the market and skilled trainings for farms, when required.