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Cinnamon tales

Cinnamon tales

GROWING SPICE The high commercial value of cinnamon has contributed to unsustainable harvesting methods tending towards over-exploitation. Narasimha Hegde explains a study conducted to know how this could be changed.

“We lost ten years of our income that we used to get by harvesting the cinnamon bud,” Atma and Narayana Uppar from Saralagi village near Gersoppa said. They were reacting to the unsustainable harvesting methods practised by people deployed by the forest contractors who had completely chopped the branches and twigs of the cinnamon trees in the forest.

Cinnamon has been known since antiquity, it was so highly prized and was regarded as a gift fit for monarchs and was even offered to the god: a fine inscription records the gift of cinnamon. For centuries its source was kept secret in the Mediterranean world by the middlemen who handled the spice trade, to protect their monopoly as suppliers. Its use is widely mentioned in the Vrikshayurveda and the Bible.

Cinnamon is a versatile spice. The bark, buds and leaves are used as spice, used extensively in flavouring confectionaries, liquors, pharmaceuticals, soaps and dental preparations. It is also used in candies, gums, incenses, dentifrices, antiseptics and astringents. Cinnamon oil is often used in medicine as a carminative and as an antiseptic against cold and diarrhoea.

Commercial value
Sri Lanka contributes 80 to 90 per cent of the global annual production. However, species like Cinnamomum malabatrum, Cinnamomum zeylanicum and Cinnamomum sulphuratum are found extensively in the forests of the Western Ghats. Some species like Cinnamomum riparium are categorised as vulnerable according to IUCN (International Union for Nature Conservation) red listing of globally threatened species.

Cinnamon is regarded as commercially important Non Timber Forest Product (NTFP) that, if harvested properly, can contribute to the income of the forest-dwelling communities.
Unfortunately, the methods employed to harvest cinnamon have long been unsustainable in terms of the plant’s ability to regenerate and become a viable livelihood option. To address these gaps, regeneration studies were carried out under a CEPF-ATREE funded project, to assess the impact of harvesting.

Cinnamon can be grown on any landscape in the Western Ghats, wet evergreen to dry deciduous patches. Harvesting season of leaf and fruit is during March (The leaf can be harvested at any time depending on the demand). Though it is not considered as a major crop, there are over 75,000 farmers cultivating the cinnamon within two districts — Shivamogga and Uttara Kannada. The global demand for cinnamon oil itself is 150 tonnes per year.

Harvesting-Easy way out?

The high commercial value of cinnamon has most likely contributed to unsustainable harvesting methods tending towards over-exploitation. Harvesting methods employed for the collection of cinnamon were closely studied and quantified to determine the technique and the extent to which cinnamon is harvested. For harvesting the leaf, entire branches, or sometimes even trees, are cut. Harvesters mentioned that collecting or plucking buds from the branches is very time consuming; so most collectors resort to cutting the branches and then plucking the small twigs from the branches, to augment the amount of buds collected in a limited time span.

Harvesters then carry the twigs home to remove the buds. In their homes, harvesters separate the fruits from the twigs and dry them before marketing. To collect the bark, the stem of the tree is often left exposed, which is harmful to the survival of the tree. In the heavily harvested regions regeneration has been seriously hampered. Base line surveys were carried out to assess the dependency and to know the current harvesting techniques. Study focussed on value chains and marketing, research and testing of propagation techniques and raising seedlings through participatory approach. Propagation was done through germinated seeds; stem cuttings, root cuttings and grafting.

Prakash Manchale, near Sagar, has been growing cinnamon for the past 10 years in his private land. According to him, it is one of the best species that could be cultivated as a subsidiary crop.  He is reaping an annual income of nearly Rs 30,000 by harvesting cinnamon fruits and leaves. “In the year 2011, there was a bumper price for the cinnamon fruit; I sold it at the rate of Rs 1,100 a kilo. I earned a profit of Rs 12,000 just from five cinnamon trees,” says another farmer Ramakrishna Bhat from Arekatta. “Cinnamon is a crop of the Malnad region, farmers can easily grow this,” says Karnataka Vriksha Mitra awardee Anguli Subba Rao.

Sustainable practices
In order to effectively maintain the economic and ecologic survival of cinnamon in the Western Ghats, certain measures must be implemented to augment different facets of the species.

The significance of regeneration must be recognised considering the current and impending paucity of cinnamon plants throughout the Western Ghats. Cinnamon species are dependent upon a natural forest habitat and therefore, cannot grow under the current notion of monoculture plantations as economic panacea. Promotion of diverse home gardens with appropriate economic benefits for NTFP production is therefore, essential.

Monitoring growth, production and harvest is essential for cinnamon or for any other NTFPs. Promoting sustainable harvesting methods is crucial to reduce the threat to the species. Capacity strengthening of village forest committees and awareness building to major stakeholders is crucial for effective management and governance.

Activities to promote domestication of cinnamon species are necessary to allow farmers to grow cinnamon plants in their home gardens or orchards.

Establishing a forest nursery that provides important economic and ecological species would increase access to such plants and relieve pressures on the natural forest. Considering the high commercial value of cinnamon, it is likely to be a popular selection among farmers.

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