Arunachal farmers on cardamom high after ditching poppy

Switching from poppy to cardamom, Arunachal district farmers set to taste success in 2021

Come February, the farmers will get to see their organically grown large cardamom exported under a brand name of their own, a reward for the gamble they took years ago

Cardamom produced by former poppy growers in Anjaw district in Arunachal Pradesh. Credit: Arunachal Pradesh government

When a group of farmers in Anjaw — the country's easternmost district in Arunachal Pradesh, — agreed to shift from the "lucrative" poppy cultivation to grow the aromatic large cardamom a decade ago, they were not expecting a huge turnaround in their fortunes.

But their decision to move away from the harmful poppy cultivation has paid off. Come February, the farmers will get to see their organically grown large cardamom exported under a brand name of their own, a reward for the gamble they took years ago.

Last week, Chiroidor Organic Producers Company Limited, a farmers' company in Anjaw, signed a MoU with Farm Native India Private Limited, which agreed to pay up to Rs 425 per kg to the farmers and take their brand to the international markets as well. 

"Farmers were initially reluctant mainly because of the price," Chono Tindya, secretary of Chiroidor Organic Producers Company Limited, told DH on Thursday.

"Poppy cultivation fetched much more money than crops like large cardamom. But things have become better since 2017 when we started becoming organised and got our crops organically certified."

The farmers' company at present has 359 farmers as members. They are cultivating large cardamom in nearly 500 hectares of the hills since the Arunachal Pradesh government started offering alternative crops to poppy growers. 

"Many are still into poppy cultivation. But if our organic crops get more prices in the market, we will be able to convince more and more farmers to give up the harmful poppy cultivation to switch over to commercial cultivation of large cardamom, turmeric and ginger," Tindya said. 

With China to its north, Anjaw, situated at an altitude of 1296 metres, is one of the remote places in Arunachal Pradesh. Cultivation of poppy, a raw material for narcotic drugs like heroin, is said to be rampant in a few districts, including Anjaw.

Ayushi Sudan, deputy commissioner, Anjaw, said annual production of large cardamom by the farmers' company touched 200 tonnes since 2018. "This time, we wanted to push for exports so that the farmers can get better prices for their produce. As a result, now they will get Rs 425 per kg instead of Rs 370 to 390 in the local markets at Hayulaing. This is a small effort to increase and sustain farmers incomes," she said.

Sudan said more than 1,800 hectares in Anjaw was under large cardamom cultivation, with the district producing about 1,385 metric tonnes every year. 

Arunachal Pradesh Chief Minister Pema Khandu was elated at the development. "The district has come a long way from being an opium producer to becoming one of the largest producers of large cardamom in Arunachal Pradesh," Khandu tweeted after the MoU was signed.