Kodagu; Land of Lushy Green Cardamom & Pepper


Cardamom, popularly referred as the queen of spices is one of the costliest spices traded in the world.  Cardamom is to a great number of Coorgs next in importance to that of rice and the possession of a fine cardamom jungle was regarded as a mine of wealth.  In the time of the Coorg Rajahs and for some time after, cardamoms were a Government monopoly. The Cardamom plant (Elettaria cardamomum) locally called yelaki grows spontaneously in the evergreen forests or Males along the Ghat-line and its spurs at an elevation of from 3,000 to 5,000 feet. The yearly gathering of the cardamoms is attended with much hardship, especially when the gardens are not in Umales, i.e. hills near the village, but far away. 

The cardamom gatherers, consisting of a party of Coorgs with their coolies of the Paleya, Kudiya, Yerava and Kuraba caste first set up a camp near the garden. The average produce of one garden of a quarter of an acre in extent may be estimated at 10 kg of dry cardamom. With more systematic cultivation seedlings and roots might be transplanted, and by trenching, manuring and irrigation, the produce might be greatly increased in quantity; but the owners of cardamom jungles require to have them on a longer lease, to make such extra expenditure remunerative ( Muthanna 1953). 

The crop is predominantly cultivated in an area of about 1,00,000 ha in the western ghats in three states – Kerala, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu. Karnataka state accounts for 33.75 percent total cultivated area under cardamom and represents 23 percent of total production of cardamom in India.In Coorg (Kodagu) district situated on the eastern slopes of western ghats on the Kerala-Karnataka state border, cardamom is cultivated as a sole crop in an area of 11,680 ha.  The total production from Coorg amounts to 800 mt which is roughly 40.5 percent of total production from the state. There are an estimated 7,000 cardamom growers in the district, 80 percent of who own holdings of size less than 4 ha (Rajeev 2001). 

Cardamom is a highly labor-intensive crop which requires manual labour throughout the year to carry out various cultural practices.  The cardamom economy in the district not only supports a sizeable proportion of small and marginal farmers but also a huge labour force working in the estates.  In fact 71% of total labour requirement is contributed by women. A study of cardamom growers in Coorg district indicated that the farmers identified some changes in labour availability patterns in the district and local labour was turning scarce in the recent years due to escalation in wages. In most of the traditional cardamom areas this crop has given its way to Coffee and as a result there has been a loss in the tree cover. 

Source: Planter chronicle, July/August 2005, page 4-29, Spices situation  

India is the home of a wide range of spices and pepper( Piper nigrum) is the most important among them and is called the King of Spices.  The history of pepper and history of India are interlinked.  Indian history would have been different if pepper were not abundant in the Malabar Coast. Until the beginning of the 19th century, India enjoyed a near-monopoly in the production of pepper and was dominating the world market by meeting 80% of the total demand.  With the emergence of other producing countries like Indonesia, Malaysia, and later Brazil as major producers of Pepper, India lost her status.  These countries achieved tremendous success by bringing larger areas under pepper cultivation and higher productivity. Of late, many new countries and have also started production and export of pepper attracted by world-wide demand for pepper.  Thailand and Vietnam are the major producers among the new corners. 

Today, pepper remains an important spice and accounts for more than one-third of the global market for all spices. Except for India, pepper grown in the major producing countries is largely for export.  These countries export more than 90% of the production.  India with a high domestic demand, exports around 50% of her production. India is exporting pepper to more than 60 countries of the world. The major buyers of Indian pepper are USA, Canada in North America, Italy, Germany, Netherlands, France in European Union, Poland, Czechoslovakia, Ukkrain, Russia in East Europe and UAE in Middle East and Japan, Australia in Far East. 

India was the major player in the international pepper trade and we were the price setters.  The situation has changed now.  The only way to win back the world pepper market is to become the major player.  This can be achieved only by concentrating on production and productivity.  So, let us put all our stress in producing high quality and a large quantity of pepper at a very low cost.  Our pricing strategy should be to offer prices as much low as possible in the future years and make other producing countries realize that they cannot compete with India.  In most of the other producing countries, pepper is cultivated as a mono-crop.  If the price goes down beyond a particular level, they cannot continue with production at such a low price.  But, India has a unique advantage that pepper is mainly cultivated as a mixed crop.  Taking this advantage, we should be able to implement the pricing strategy.  If we succeed in this, we will become the major player and the price-setters and we can win back our monopoly position prevailed in the last centuries.      

Farming systems: 

Black pepper is grown in India mostly as a backyard crop.  It is also grown on the shade trees in coffee plantations and to a certain extent as a pure crop.  Though there are about 70 cultivars of pepper grown in different regions, only four or five varieties are really high yielding.  Pepper has become the most common intercrop in all coffee plantations. The production of pepper per vine is very high in Kodagu compared to any other pepper production countries in the world due to its suitable ecological condition.   

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