Over 70% percent of Indian output of large cardamom comes from Sikkim alone thus making India the largest cardamom producer (54% of world production) in the world, followed by Nepal. From ecological perspective, large Cardamom (Ammomum subulatum) is an endemic cash crop of the eastern Himalaya with its origin in Sikkim. As it is cultivated with alder trees (forest), it has high carbon sequestration (162 ton/ha) to mitigate climate change. Some 30% of Sikkim farmers are solely dependent on it and it generates 144,809 field laborers each year in Sikkim for harvesting. But, it is declining for various reasons: 1) Biological (root rots, pests infestation, leaf blight, soil fungus, caterpillar, pollen theft , old age of orchards, and spread of disease from alder tree; 2) Socio-economic (scarce labor, disintegration of joint family, farming as unattractive option for youngsters); and 3) Governance (biased government policy and less extension activities, restrictive immigration rules for Nepali laborers, and no priority for cardamom research).
In the past and present, cardamom farming has enabled Sikkim women with access to and control over cardamom as resource, enhanced bargaining power, decreased subordination, and more social mobility. As small and marginal farmers livelihood are at risk including farmers at high altitude because of cardamom decline, women are also at risk because reduced market access and less social mobility. Furthermore, power relations within households put women at higher risk to malnutrition due to inequitable food distribution and hierarchical eating practices.
A mother from one of the climate-related vulnerable communities says that …“Had it not been for cardamom, we would not have improved our living conditions and our children would have been illiterate. Income from cardamom helped us to buy terraced land to grow rice, feed our children and pay off our debts.”