Changing role of women in high value agriculture with special focus on cardamom farming in the post conflict Nepal

The context

A study on ‘Feminization of agriculture, transformation and rural employment (FATE) with specific focus on social and political conditions of asset building in the context of export led agriculture in Ilam district shows that the decade long armed conflict (1996-2006) not only negatively affected Nepal but also contributed to agrarian change leading to alter the sociopolitical and economic structures and power relations in rural Nepal.
During the time of the armed conflict the export led agri. market system was severely disrupted and several agri. market centers were either shutdowns, or obstructed, agricultural goods and physical infrastructure were physically damaged, production, processing, transportation and trading of agricultural commodities were not safe. Taxation on agriculture products, forced donation from farmers and transport strikes, blockades and bandhs were rampant. Hence, agricultural product price was unstable. Consequently, farmers were hesitant to engage and invest in export-led agriculture.

Large cardamom plant, Ilam district. B.Upreti

Large cardamom plant, Ilam district. B.Upreti

However, the situation has been changed after the signing of comprehensive peace agreement (CPA) in November 2006. One of the positive contributions of the armed conflict was enhanced social and political empowerment of rural population, especially rural women which has later contribute them to assert their rights and engaged in export led agriculture. In this context, a team of researchers conducted study in Ilam district from 2014 to 2016 focusing to large cardamom (Amomum sabulatum). The main objectives of the study was to investigate women’s engagement in high value agricultural exports and its contribution to their empowerment (asset building, political, economic and social empowerment). The research used both qualitative methods (Focus Group Discussion, Key Informant Interview, observation, and transact visits) and quantitative survey of 500 households. Major findings are discussed in the following points:

Cardamom affected by diseases:

Nepal is one of the largest producers of cardamom as export-oriented commodity and important means of women’s livelihood and empowerment. It is treated as “black gold”. In 2013 Nepal exported 2914.47 Mt cardamom worth NRS 2,528,003,204 with 90 % of it to India and then it goes to Middle East.

The table shows the overall situation of cardamom production in Ilam district. The area and production of cardamom was reduced since some years due to severe infestation of Chhirke-furke diseases. But it is gradually reviving because the local farmers planted local (Salakpure) variety which is not affected by the diseases so far.

Even when the cardamom crop was severely damaged by diseases the commercial export led agriculture (cardamom, ginger, broom grass, fresh vegetables, and fruits) market is revival in Ilam. Continued efforts of farmers and government to develop collection and market (wholesale and retail) centers, formation of market management committees and agriculture and consumer cooperatives; sharing of market information; provision for credit facilities.

Women’s empowerment:

It was reported that cardamom, ginger and other cash crops provide means for social, political and economic empowerment. They have now high social standing and respect once they engage in women agriculture cooperatives’ they are developing their managerial ability and able to invest in women’s affairs, they became confident to deal on social issues. In this context, MsLaxmi Tamang, Manager of Jirmale Women Agriculture Cooperative said “Our members are confident, vocal and getting social recognition, respects and leadership positions in society and taking leadership role in social events in the village”. She further said “we don’t give dowry to our daughters but educate them and make them stand on their own feet”.
Often it was reported that engagement of women in export-led agriculture also contributed to their economic empowerment as they got more employment opportunities and better wage (about 500 NRS per day), more earning from cardamom than conventional crops and able to invest in their choice that broaden their economic decision making.
Women’s political empowerment was also enhanced as cardamom enterprise provided them space for political engagement and leadership. The chair lady of Ilam Chambers of Commerce Mrs. Sushila Sapkota said, cardamom and other cash crops in Ilam not only socially and economically strengthened position of women but also created space for women to politically establish, to take leadership and political positions at local level”. They were able to take leadership in cooperative to political position at local level. Further, women’s assets were also increased. Their participation in networks and membership in cooperatives, provided them more social responsibility and recognition.

Problems and challenges:

Most common problems reported by 322 of 513 respondents are Chirke, Furke and rhizome rot that had drastically reduced production of traditional varieties. Further, they have not enough technical knowledge to improve the quality so they have to rely on traditional Kiln for drying. Another major problem is lack of up to date market information and market price fluctuation.It was very difficult for the farmers engaged in export led agriculture to compete with Indian farmers. Further, they have also occasionally faced agro ecological risk, market risk


Though the decade long armed conflict and subsequent political tensions severely affected export-led agriculture, there is fast improvement with the efforts of women. Women’s engagement in high value agricultural exports particularly cardamom is very encouraging and one of the most effective enterprises for women’s empowerment Women of Ilam district have not only politically, economically and socially empowered but also able to increase their natural, economic, social and political assets. Nevertheless, women’s engagement in cardamom value chain is discouraged by the two problems i.e., diseases and market price fluctuation In addition, women are facing psychological pressures to maintain and expand their high value agricultural exports in the situation of and steady responses of the government to address some of the policy constraints.

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