Currently, the demand for cardamom on the market is very high. Therefore, Sustainable Agriculture Tanzania (SAT) offered an agroecological training on the spice. This capacity building session in the field took place to show how the plant can be intercropped in an agroforestry system so that the slopes of the Uluguru Mountains remain or become again protected from erosion.
Mkuyuni, a small village in the Ruvu river area of the Uluguru Mountains, is not easy to reach. The drive from the SAT headquarter in Morogoro up in the mountains was already hampered due to the rain season and muddy roads. After the car was parked, another 20-minute walk was needed to reach the remote demonstration plot. This provides a brief yet important glimpse on the obstacles, such as difficult market access and poor infrastructure, small-scale farmers have to face in addition to the harsh working conditions in the mountains.
Dr. Mgembe explains how to grow and harvest cardamom
No matter if the sun was shining or rain was falling, farmers of Mkuyuni and the surrounding areas were very keen on learning about the production of cardamom. As part of the Uluguru Spice Project, this capacity building training was attended by 87 farmers from 10 different farmers groups. Two government extension officers were also present to ensure that knowledge and expertise on the highly demanded spice remains beyond the duration of the project. All attended farmers are from SAT trained peer-to-peer trainers who combined will share the knowledge with a total network of 1500 farmers over the next three years. In addition to that, we also provide further possibilities to gain knowledge on spices at our Organic Spice Production Course.
As the cardamom plant is rather new here as a potential cash crop, SAT invited Dr. Elias Mgembe from the Sokoine University of Agriculture as an external trainer to provide the needed expertise on how to grow, foster and harvest the spice. Only a few farmers have already cardamom plants on their fields, for many of them it is still a very new plant. However, a very promising one: The demand is very high and the supply not sufficient. Thus, farmers can get a very high profit from selling cardamom, and from the other way around the soil is protected through this intercropped perennial plant.
The cardamom plant: similar to turmeric and ginger and yet different
The training was held on a demonstration plot so that Dr. Mgembe could provide very practical, hands-on explanations. Actually, for an untrained eye it is not that easy to detect the inflorescence. It is quite a big plant, which belongs to the same family as turmeric and ginger, with actual capsules growing on a small part above the ground. In addition, there are three different types of cardamom plants with different needs and aspects to consider. Generally, a few characteristics can be noted, which the plant needs or has:
- High humidity
- Shade (50-60%), thus intercropping is helpful and it is suited for agroforestry
- Short roots, thus a highly nutritious top soil layer is needed
- Seedlings for propagation of plant (danger of transferring diseases too)
- Bees for pollination
Capacity building: Handpicking ensures the best quality
Often, farmers harvest too early because they need the income from selling the spice, leading to a loss of quality. The cardamom plant needs to be harvested not only manually, but the almost ripe capsules need to be handpicked just before maturity. Thus, the spice needs a lot of work and attention. Yet, the process continues beyond harvesting as the right storage and drying process also plays an important role for the quality of the final product.
Cardamom is only the latest addition to the trainings which are part of the USP project to increase capacity building on the spices. By doing so, SAT provides the small-scale farmers with a strengthened value chain. It focusses on direct processing at the farm and product development and market access via SAT facilities. SAT pays the farmers a premium price (at least 10% more), which is mutually agreed on with the producers themselves and leads to a more secure income.
Community building and knowledge exchange as part of the USP project
Back to the training: The many questions the farmers had for Dr. Mgembe were a clear sign that there is a need and interest on the cultivation of cardamom. Furthermore, during lunch the different farmer groups could connect and share experiences on agroecological methods, another important aspect in the work of SAT. To foster community exchange and participation of farmers is an essential objective of SAT’s vision to grow sustainable agriculture in Tanzania.