Cardamom-growing regions of Idukki are facing an acute shortage of labour, which is hindering smooth harvest of the crop that started in July.
According to the growers’ community, availability of labour has tumbled to almost 40 per cent of the requirement in the wake of Covid-19 restrictions on movement of migrant labour from the neighbouring district of Theni in Tamil Nadu. The declaration of containment zones in many areas of Tamil Nadu has forced the district administration in Idukki to restrict the movement of Tamil workers, who regularly come for farm work in cardamom plantations of Vandanmedu.
“The labour shortage is acute in many plantations in Idukki and is affecting the harvest. We are managing with available labour, but they are not competent enough to complete the harvest in a time-bound manner. The emerging situation may lead to the destruction of capsules that may not be fruitful for anyone,” a cardamom planter told BusinessLine.
Last year, cardamom production stood at about 20,000 tonnes. The sector was expecting a bumper harvest this year, thanks to conducive weather from the beginning of 2020. However, scarcity of rains during May, June and July has delayed cardamom settings. Moreover, heavy winds during the current monsoon season has felled cardamom trees in plantations, affecting the tillers, he said.
Sources in the auctioning community pointed out that no auctions have been held for almost two months now due to the Covid-19-led nationwide lockdown. Because of this lockdown, sellers who were holding cardamom stocks, did not get an opportunity to dispose the material. This has resulted in increased arrivals at the auctions now. Once the old stock gets exhausted, the industry is of the view that arrivals may fall.
Besides, Covid-19 is proving to be an unpredictable factor in upcountry markets. The average price realisation at the auctions is hovering in the range of ₹1,700-1,800 per kg. Exports too, have been down, especially to Saudi Arabia, due to technical issues connected with pesticide residues.
C Sadasivasubramaniam of the Kerala Cardamom Growers Union pointed out that around 25,000 hectares of plantations in Idukki are owned by small and medium farmers from Tamil Nadu, who travel to and from the plantations daily for farming activities. But the authorities have stopped their movement due to the pandemic, which has badly affected their work.
The recent monsoon rains followed by landslides and heavy winds have damaged the cardamom plants which were ready for harvest. This has resulted in a drop in the number of capsules in many plantations. However, the sector is yet to assess the extent of damage. For this, it has requested the Spices Board to constitute a committee consisting of members from the State agriculture department, Spices Board, and farmers from each village, he added.