Cardamom economy: Trends in area, production and productivity

The data base

Official statistics on area, production and productivity of cardamom in India are conflicting and are of doubtful reliability. There is wide disparity between official estimates of the Ministry of Agriculture and the Ministry of Commerce of Government of India. Trade estimates of production by the Indian Pepper and Spice Trade Association, Kochi gives a third figure. The official estimates have always been considerably lower than the trade estimates of production. Bias in the official estimates arise mainly out of:

(a) Inadequate sampling and estimation procedures which do not take into account the perennial nature of the crop and regional variations in cultivation.

(b) Exclusion of encroached forestland and unregistered smallholdings from the purview of estimation.

Despite such limitations, an attempt is made here to analyze the available information on area, production and productivity of cardamom with a view to get some broad indications of the possible changes that have been taking place in the crop economy during the last 25 years and future prospects for the immediate 5 years.

The emerging trends

The time series data on area, production and productivity of cardamom along with growth index worked out for the period from 1970–71 to 1999–2000 are presented in Table Area, production and productivity in cardamom. A perusal of the period-wise performance indicates that significant decline in production was recorded in 1972–73, 1976–77, 1982–83, 1983–84, 1987–88 and 1996–97. As in the case of other agricultural commodities, climate exerts great influence on cardamom production, and productivity. In India, cardamom is generally grown under rain-fed conditions, and is affected by ecological changes of the forest habitats and moisture stress. Hence, along with the year-to-year fluctuations in rainfall, both its quantum and distribution – the output and productivity of cardamom have shown considerable fluctuations. The severe drought that prevailed in certain years not only affected the yield during those years but also in the subsequent years. Recently, introduction of irrigation during summer for the cardamom crop in large coffee/cardamom plantations has stabilized the yield to some extent in certain areas.

Table Area, production and productivity in cardamom

YearArea (ha)Growth indexProduction (mt)Growth indexProductivity (kg/ha)Growth index

Source: Data from various issues of ‘Spices statistics’, Spices Board, Cochin and Agricultural production statistics, Ministry of Agriculture, Government of India, Delhi.

2.2.1 Area

Changes in area under the crop over the period from 1970 to 1971 onwards can be grouped as follows:

(1) 1970–71 to 1977–78 – Period of no change in the area under cardamom;

(2) 1978–79 to 1988–89 – Period of increasing trend;

(3) 1989–90 to 1997–98 – Period of decline.

While the area under the crop remained unchanged during the first period for about 8 years, there were year-to-year fluctuations in quantity produced, reflecting the climatical effect on productivity. A sudden dip in cardamom area during 1989–90 is not an actual change. It is merely a correction (change) in existing statistical figures on record. During this year the report of the survey for assessment of area under cardamom in India conducted by Spices Board was published.

Accordingly, the actual enumerated area of 81,113 hectares replaced hitherto reported area of 1,05,000 ha which was based on the area registered by the state government. In the third ‘period of decline’, though there was a marginal improvement during 1992–95, the area under the crop continues to be below the lower confidence level (LCL) of 84,818.39 ha. The estimated growth index towards end of this period is negative (-23.68 per cent) in 1997–98 over the base year 1970–71 (Table Area, production and productivity in cardamom).


A significant feature of cardamom production in India is the cyclical fluctuations in yield i.e. after a continuous increase of production and productivity for 2–3 years a trend of decline sets in and continues before climbing up again. The climatic variations occurring in a cyclical nature give rise to this phenomenon in the case of this delicate shade-loving plant. There were cyclical fluctuations during 1973–76, 1978–81 and 1985–87. It can be observed in Figure “Area under cardamom in India (1970–2000)” that the peaks were achieved after gradual increase for 2–3 years, then there was a sudden dip. India’s production had been showing a consistently increasing trend from 4250 tons in 1992–93 to 7900 tons in 1995–96, but declined to 7150 tons in 1997–98. But, the rate of decline was not as fast as in 70s and 80s. This may be due to improvement in productivity, using improved varieties and better production technology. There is an increasing trend in production after 1997–98 crop year.


The yield level that was around 34.65 kg/ha during 1970–71 has not shown much improvement till the end of 1980, except for occasional fluctuations towards higher side (up to 48 kg/ha during 1979–80). It appears that, the yield increase during this period does not seem to have contributed to the increase in production; the entire increase in production being accounted for by area increase. However, the productivity level has improved from 1990 onwards and reached 102.4 kg/ha during 1997. Productivity registered during 1997–98 is almost 3 times the productivity of 1970–71. The estimated growth rate in production is more than 225 per cent over the base year. Record productivity of 173 kg/ha was achieved during 1999–2000 owing to better varieties and improved management practices followed.

Growth estimates

In order to get summary measures of long-term trends in area, production and productivity of cardamom in India, semi logarithmic growth equations are estimated and the results are presented in Table Estimated growth equations for area and production of cardamom in India (1970–71 to 1997–98). It can be seen from the table, that the overall trend in area under cardamom registered an average annual negative growth rate of —0.6 per cent, while production has grown at the rate of 3.1 per cent per annum. In order to examine the cycli cal fluctuation in cardamom production and area, decadal growth analysis was done. The decadal growth rate shows that there was a positive growth rate of 0.2 and 0.1 per cen respectively in 70s and 80s, it was —1.9 in the 90s as regards area. Production had a posi tive growth rate in all the three decades, but it was the highest (8.3 per cent) in the 90s The figures for productivity are a matter of major concern, as it has direct bearing on the cost efficiency and profitability of cardamom cultivation. The estimated negative growth rate in area and positive growth rate in production during the 90s indicates the improvement in productivity i.e. with less area under the crop more quantity is produced.

Table State-wise area, production and productivity of cardamom in India



VariablesKeralaKarnatakaTamil NaduIndia
1970–71Area (ha)55,19060.3328,22030.8180708.8191,480
Production (t)213067.1980525.392357.413170
Productivity (kg/ha)38.5928.5329.1234.65
1980–81Area (ha)56,38060.0128,22030.0393509.9593,950
Production (t)310070.45100022.733006.824400
Productivity (kg/ha)54.9828.2232.0946.83
1990–91Area (ha)43,82653.7431,60538.7561237.5181,554
Production (t)345072.6380016.8450010.534750
Productivity (kg/ha)78.7225.3181.6658.24
1997–98Area (ha)43,05061.6621,41030.6653607.6869,820
Production (t)543075.94124017.344806.71715
Productivity (kg/ha)126.1357.9289.55102.41
1999–2000*Area (ha)41,52257.3125,88235.7250476.9772,451
Production (t)655070.51195020.997908.509290
Productivity (kg/ha)213103205173

Source: Spices statistics (various issues) Government of India, Spices Board, Cochin.


Yield is estimated by dividing total production with area.

* Midterm estimate.

State-wise area, production and productivity

Cardamom belt of India is located in the Western Ghats regions of Kerala, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu. Table State-wise area, production and productivity of cardamom in India presents the area, production and productivity of cardamom in different States of India. It is clear from the table that Kerala accounts for the major share of area and production of cardamom in India, and that this remained more or less unchanged over the last three decades. Karnataka State stands second, followed by Tamil Nadu. Over the years productivity per unit area has gone up both in Kerala and in Karnataka but has gone down in Tamil Nadu.

Production constraints

The major reasons attributed for low productivity of cardamom in India are:

  1. Recurring climatic vagaries, especially drought in the absence of irrigation practice.
  2. Absence of regular replantation activities – under the mixed cropping system farmer is happy with the additional income from the aged cardamom plants, where as re-planting with improved high-yielding varieties would have given better yield.
  3. Deforestation and resultant changes in the ecological conditions prevailing in the growing area – leading to conversion of cardamom land to other competing crops like pepper.
  4. Lack of eagerness among planters to adopt high production technologies – though better varieties and practically proven package of practice is available to enhance yield level up to 600 kg/ha.
  5. Problems of pests and diseases.
  6. Remote location of plantations.
  7. System of land tenure – does not allow long-term planning for improvement by the actual producer who works on the land.

Comparative performance of area and productivity of cardamom with other plantation crops

Coffee, pepper and arecanut are the other plantation crops raised in cardamom growing areas of India. Depending on the prevailing market price, one crop is neglected in favour of other. So, it would be interesting to examine the growth of area, production and productivity of cardamom with that of other crops. Table Quinquennial averages of the indices of area, production and productivity of major commercial crops (1960–61 = 100) presents the quinquennial average of growth indices of area; production and productivity of coffee, and pepper along with cardamom for the period from 1960–61 to 1994–95 with 1960–61 as the base year. Some of the growers in both Karnataka and Kerala may have taken up coffee either by replacing existing cardamom plants or replacing a few rows of cardamom with coffee adopting a multiple-cropping pattern to assure economic stability. The table indicates that coffee has shown steady growth in area, production and productivity. But, the spice crops, cardamom and pepper, did not achieve the comparable growth rate. However, cardamom has shown a phenomenal improvement in area and production in all the quinquennial period, while there was a marked improvement in the quinquennial period from 1985–86 to 1989–90.