A new era for Himalayan large cardamom

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The Eastern Himalayas straddle three South Asian nations, Nepal, India, and Bhutan, which also happen to be the main producers of large cardamom, a specialty spice that enjoys wide appeal across South Asia and the Middle East.

Recently, large cardamom has captured newer ground, making headway in European markets and the United States.

While international borders divide South Asia, the large cardamom value chains and its production in Nepal, India, and Bhutan share many similarities. 

In the rugged Eastern Himalayan terrain, small subsistence farmers, most of whom are women produce large cardamom, while home-based female workers nurture the crop and ensure it is ready to harvest in the months after the monsoon. 

Decades-long exchanges across the Himalayan countries have established strong connections, but trade remains mostly unorganized. 

And despite producing most of the world’s large cardamom, Nepal (the world’s top producer), India, and Bhutan do not share enough information in critical areas of research, data systems, and market access to improve their value chains. 

To boost cross-country collaboration, the World Bank and HomeNet South Asia gathered government representatives, experts, and producers last July in Nepal.

Decades-long exchanges across the Himalayan countries have established strong connections,   but trade remains mostly unorganized.

Participants recognized that producer countries face common challenges and agreed that greater regional collaboration could help solve problems more efficiently and pave the way for a unique branding for Himalayan large cardamom.

Building up a common brand identity is paramount to the success of Himalayan large cardamom  because, despite its distinct properties and flavor, it is often confused with lesser varieties.  

Earlier in the decade, when prices of large cardamom peaked, it was reportedly often mixed with cheaper, wild varieties of the spice from China and Vietnam.

This drove down the price of large cardamom in already volatile international markets.

In turn, lower price tags threaten actors across the value chain, especially women home-based workers who are at the bottom of the pyramid.

Establishing a strong and well-recognized Himalayan cardamom brand can help those most vulnerable secure their livelihoods.   

Woman HBW in cardamom field
In the daunting terrain of the Eastern Himalayas, large cardamom, a speciality spice, is grown largely by the small, subsistence farmers, especially women, home-based workers. Photo: HomeNet South Asia Trust 


Greater regional collaboration is also urgent to support research on crop variety and diseases, which women home-based farmers and other producers reported as a major threat  in a study conducted in Taplejung, Nepal.

In Bhutan and India too, crop disease is now a norm, and farmers are left to grapple with the problem on their own.

Joint government initiatives in tackling crop disease along with varietal research can help improve the quality of cardamom and give producers an edge in competitive markets.

Establishing a strong and well-recognized Himalayan cardamom brand can help those most vulnerable secure their livelihoods.  

What producers also need is more market research analysis to assess demand for large cardamom and associated products.

To guarantee success, Nepal, Bhutan, and India will need to ensure that women home-based workers who form the cornerstone of the value chain are involved in all reforms. 

Initiatives to help women improve the quality of their products, ensure they have access to credit and markets, and can find opportunities for decent livelihoods can help usher in a new era for the Himalayan brand of large cardamom.

The South Asia Regional Trade Facilitation Program’s (SARTFP) Advancing Women's Enterprises grant supported this work thanks to funding from Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.


Navya D’Souza

Communications and Programme Manager

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