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Black Cardamom: Spicing up Markets in Nepal

On a slightly chilly morning in a Himalayan village a woman is boiling some water over a wood stove. She reaches to a shelf for a plastic jar filled with a large, brown pod-shaped spice. She drops several in the boiling water and adds dried tea leaves, leaving it to steep. Soon, the steaming pot is poured through a filter into the tea cups before passing them out to her guests. The taste is aromatic and smoky with a touch of mint and the smallest glimmer of spice and sweetness.

Green cardamom is a familiar spice in baking around the world, and particularly popular in dishes from Central Asia that you’ve probably enjoyed at your local Indian restaurant. Its cousin, black cardamom, is dried in open flames creating that smoky flavor but distinct in its tones of mint creating a cooling aftertaste. Unlike green cardamom it tends to be used less on sweet dishes and instead to complement savory meats and stews.

Most of the world’s black cardamom production comes from Nepal. Once known as a highly impoverished country, Nepal is quickly making progress from just decades ago, and much of that can be attributed to its grassroots innovation. Despite the many infrastructure challenges like intermittent electricity and roads washed out by monsoon or general disrepair, farmers in Nepal constantly seek new products to generate higher incomes for their families.

Black cardamom, also known as Nepal cardamom, is spreading beyond its roots in eastern Nepal, having become so popular to produce the market price dropped in half over the last few years. Despite those decreases it remains profitable over traditional corn and potato crops.

Ask a farmer in central Nepal about traditional crops and they can name wholesalers, producers and prices off the top of their head. Cardamom is an unknown crop to many farmers and its consumption is more popular outside of this landlocked country.

With Nepal’s rising interest in black cardamom, Aythos decided to understand the market a little better. The team went to Nepal’s cardamom epicenter in eastern part of the country to look at the supply chain in their more developed markets. Almost all cardamom produced in Nepal is processed through the National Cardamom Trade Federation where just 2 percent of black cardamom remains in the country. The rest is exported to India where it stays or continues to other countries around the world.

Having a one-stop-shop to buy cardamom saves a lot of trouble, but growing a crop in a new area comes with bigger challenges. It’s not just planting a high-value crop, but countering the ill-effects of new climates, soils acidity, and water management issues among others.

One village, Taplejung, found this out the hard way as their cardamom yields diminished year-over-year. Diseases and unhealthy soils were taking a toll. Several organizations have been working on behalf of farmers to solve problems of replicating a product in new areas. Among them is a partnership between the Rural Livelihoods and Climate Change Adaptation in the Himalayas (Himalica) teaming with the Community Development and Environment Conservation Forum to address the issues. The pilot project includes 300 Nepal farmers operating large cardamom production farms where test scenarios have been implemented among 12 small plots.

Aythos eagerly awaits these outcomes to support farmers interested in black cardamom production. Among early adopters where Aythos is working, some small improvements have been made such as planting fast growing shade plants and incorporating previous kiwi projects nearby to cardamom production to create better growing conditions. If the black cardamom market continues to develop Aythos hopes to help farmers build its potential.


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