The Sorry Saga of Bhutan's North

The Sorry Saga of Bhutan's North
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Thursday, October 29, 2009

The rise and fall of cardamom

Attacked by viral and fungal infections, Tendu plantations bear crops for only 3 years

WEALTHY AND VULNERABLE : A cash crop that is especially susceptible to disease

29 October, 2009 - When former soldier Dawa Tshering moved from Trashiyangtse in eastern Bhutan to Tendu, Samtse, he pinned his future on cardamom plantations.

It has been four decades among cardamom plantations for the 62-year-old and in that time he has seen the crop flourish and then give in to diseases, crushing the hopes of many Tendu farmers.

“Cardamom had become the main cash crop in this area since 1977. Plantations began to increase from 1985 onwards,” he said. “But that same year, deadly diseases began affecting the plantation.”

Tendu farmers explained that foorkey (bushy dwarf) and another wilt and blight disease caused by an insect took all the hopes of cardamom planters. “Foorkey is a bush of small weeds that appears within the root of the cardamom plant, while the wilt is seen with lots of insect eggs along the leaf of the plant,” according to Dawa Tshering.

A study on cardamom diseases has classified the foorkey as a viral disease and the wilt cum blight as a fungal disease.

According to Dawa’s observations, the plants die the next year after the appearance of foorkey and, within three years, it spreads to the whole plantation.

The blight disease spreads within a year and also takes around three years to kill the whole plantation. “The blight kills the leaf in the first year and gradually reaches the root, killing whole plantations within three years, but any plant that has the foorkey bears no produce and does not survive the next year,” he said.

From his 90 decimal plantation area, Dawa harvested about 560 kg of cardamom last year and sold it for Nu 7,000 a mon (40 kg).

This year the price has reached Nu 11,000 a mon and Dawa is hoping it touches Nu 12,000. “I’ve about 10 mons left and my son wants me to wait and sell it when it touches Nu 12,000,” he said.

Nar Bahadur, 65, also said that every year about half the production gets lost to diseases. “We’ve informed the agriculture officers and they did their best, but the plants couldn’t be protected from this diseases,” he said.

According to Dawa, the plant takes two years to bear fruit. That is when foorkey also starts to appear in one or two plants. “We get just three years to harvest in decreasing yields and, by sixth and seventh years, the plantation has to be cleaned and re-planted,” he said.

By Samten Yeshi, Kuensel

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