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July 16, 2007

Ugandan spice farmers turn to cardamom

Uganda Crop Industries is in a campaign to ensure that over 5,000 farmers grow cardamom in the next three years. Mansoor Nadir, the managing director of the company which exports the
crop to Germany, France and Middle East countries, says they have started investing over $500,000 in supporting farmers in addition to $300,000 already spent in the last three years.

"We started with 400 farmers and today, we have 300 organic farmers and 2,000 non-organic farmers in the three districts. But our overall target in three years to come is 5,000 farmers producing over 150,000 metric tonnes annually," he said.

Cardamom, commonly referred to as "the queen of spices," is used in curries, confectioneries, meat products, tea and coffee. It is in the ginger family, with aromatic seeds that provide a spicy-sweet flavour.

Mansoor says they have started setting up processing units for farmers at sub-county levels to double as cardamom collecting centres, so that farmers are relieved of long distances to the main factory in Mukono. "This will increase farmers' incomes as processed capsules cost higher than the unprocessed ones which they have been bringing here," he said.

Mansoor revealed that they have used over sh550m on research, production of seedlings, farmers training, promotional activities, tools, chemicals, fertilisers and irrigation and emphasises that these benefits will continue in a move to bring more farmers on board. He said, "Unprocessed green cardamom costs sh2,000 a kilo, while the processed one costs between sh8,000 and sh10,000, depending on quality and market forces."

The company's chief agronomist, Ravi Samy, said cardamom's lifespan is between 12 to 15 years. Over 2,500 plants are planted in a hectare, each plant yielding a kilo per two harvests a year, earning sh4m per harvest. He says cardamom can be intercropped with bananas, coffee, vanilla, moringa or black pepper to enable a farmer to get multiple benefits.

It grows best in tropical forests at altitudes ranging from 600 to 1,500 metres above sea level, receiving well-distributed rainfall of over 1,500mm and temperatures of 10-35ÂșC. It best grows and develops in warm and humid places under the canopy of evergreen forests.

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