Despite the ensuing festival season, subdued buying of cardamom from upcountry markets has pushed the trading community in a precarious situation.Get access to premium Portfolio content for 14 daysStart my free trial
“What is happening now is only minimal trade with some specific orders which is not enough to tide over the crisis triggered by the pandemic,” sources in the sector told BusinessLine. The high labour cost and shortage of migrant labour from Theni due to Covid-19 restrictions has forced growers in Idukki to depend on labour that’s available in Kerala, which has increased costs by around 30 per cent, the sources said.
“September and October are considered a good time for a demand boost for cardamom from North Indian consuming markets. But the spread of Covid-19 has hit consumption due to restrictions on weddings, events, etc. Traders are in a dilemma on the dwindling demand, coupled with a stagnant export market due to the pesticide issue in Saudi Arabia,” PC Punnoose, CEO, CPMCS Ltd, said.
The labour shortage is affecting the harvest in Idukki, where 90 per cent of the country’s cardamom is grown. The delay is impacting the quality of capsules which now looks pale yellow in colour instead of flush green. Moreover, movement restrictions on labour affected the upkeep of plantations, as 40 per cent of cardamom plantations in Idukki are owned by farmers from the neighbouring state, he said.
As cardamom plantations are labour intensive, C Sadasivasubramaniam, Secretary, Kerala Cardamom Growers Association, urged the district administration to permit workers to travel from the borders to Idukki. The major threat to plants is the Azhukal disease that requires anti-fungal treatment. “When Kerala government permits free movement of workers through other district borders, why is the district administration in Idukki so adamant in denying such benefits here?” he asked.
“Cardamom capsules has to be plucked at 40-day intervals and any delay can lead to quality reduction, breaking of capsules and less setting for future rounds,” SB Prabhakar, cardamom planter, Pambadampara Estate, said.
The reduced demand in north Indian markets is contributing to a fall in prices; it dropped to ₹1,460 per kg, half of the previous year’s average. Copious amounts of rains in September in growing areas added to the bearish sentiment, he added.
Guatemala is expecting a good crop this season due to ideal weather and the prices are hovering at around $17. As prices in India have come down, the sector could export more to the Gulf nations, including Saudi, after resolving the pending issues, he said.
The auctioneers pointed out that the market is witnessing selling pressure as farmers are liquidating their stocks at auctions fearing a further price drop.