Soaring demand and falling yields propel large cardamom price to double

Laxmi Gautam
Kathmandu, Dec 13: Large cardamom prices have more than doubled in the last six months due to a sharp drop in production and growing international appetite for the prized spice.

Traders say that the price of large cardamom, one of the most expensive spices in the world, is heading upward. If the current trend continues, it is expected to break the price record in the coming months, traders say.

This week, the price of the spice reached Rs1,875 per kg in the market in Birtamod, Jhapa. It was at Rs925 per kg in June.

Khem Adhikari, a trader in Phidim of Panchthar, the eastern hill district, said that high-quality large cardamom is being traded at Rs1,875 per kg, while medium-quality spice is fetching Rs1,825 per kg.

The normal quality is being traded at Rs1,800 per kg.

Large cardamom is grown mainly in the eastern hills of Nepal, and Birtamod of Jhapa is a key trading town for the region’s agricultural produce.

In 2014, large cardamom hit an all-time high of Rs2,500 per kg. Since then, prices had been going steadily downhill, sinking to a low of Rs700 per kg in mid-July.

Large cardamom is a high-value cash crop and a major source of income for farmers in the mountains and hills of eastern Nepal.

Despite the rise in prices, farmers, however, are not happy.

Madhu Raj Kurumbang, a large cardamom farmer in ward 8 of Phalelung rural municipality in Panchthar, said farmers are not getting fair prices for their produce. “Prices of the spice normally increase after farmers sell them.”

Large cardamom is harvested from mid-August to mid-November. At the start of the season this year, the spice was being traded at Rs1,250 per kg, according to the Federation of Large Cardamom Entrepreneurs Association of Nepal.

“The price of large cardamom has been soaring due to the decline in production in all three countries—Nepal, India and Bhutan,” said Nirmal Bhattarai, president of Large Cardamom Entrepreneurs’ Association of Nepal.

He said that Nepal’s large cardamom output has dropped by 60 percent year-on-year due to drought and pest problems.

“We expect that the price will reach Rs2,000 per kg within a few weeks.”

“There is a high demand in the international market following the low production,” said Bhattarai.

India is the biggest buyer of Nepal’s large cardamom, absorbing 99 percent of its exports. The spice is re-exported to Pakistan and the Middle East where it fetches high prices because of local preference for the Nepali product.

Pakistan is the largest importer of large cardamom, purchasing roughly 60 percent of India’s large cardamom exports. Large cardamom pods are used by the local Muslim community in biryani, a popular Pakistani dish, as a symbol of prosperity and wealth.

According to the Agriculture Ministry statistics, Nepal produced over 10,000 tonnes of large cardamom in the last fiscal year. In 2019-20, output was 9,545 tonnes, which dropped to 8,289 tonnes in 2020-21. In 2021-22, production rose slightly to 8,714 tonnes.

Nepal is the largest producer of large cardamom, accounting for 68 percent of the global production, followed by India and Bhutan.

Elsewhere in the region, the spice is grown in Sikkim, Darjeeling and Bhutan. Large cardamom was introduced in Ilam from Sikkim in 1865.

Ilam, Panchthar, Taplejung, Sankhuwasabha, Tehrathum, Bhojpur and Dhankuta districts are the major large cardamom-producing districts in Nepal.

Deepak Nepal, a large cardamom trader, said apart from India, demand from Bangladesh has been growing lately.

Nepali traders were also making efforts to export large cardamom to Bangladesh directly through the Kakarbhitta-Panitanki-Phulbari route. The three points are located in Nepal, India and the India-Bangladesh border respectively.

The 44-km route provides the shortest access to the Bangladeshi border point of Banglabandha for Nepal’s trade with and through Bangladesh.

The large cardamom export increased by 71.94 percent year-on-year in the last fiscal year.

According to the Department of Customs, Nepal exported 9,990 tonnes of large cardamom worth Rs8.27 billion in the last fiscal year compared to 5,367 tonnes worth Rs4.81 billion in 2021-22.

Nepali large cardamom or black cardamom has a distinct flavour profile due to a specific method of postharvest drying in bhattis (ovens), which explains the roasted smell and taste.

The smoky flavour would overwhelm a sweet cake or pudding, but in a spice rub for roasted meat or a full-flavoured stew, it imparts a smouldering depth no other spice can, according to experts.

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