Sunday, May 24, 2009

Cardomom spice growing experiment for BELIZE

Jamaican cardamom spice
About 10 seeds per pod for Cardomom
Green cardamom pods


By Ray Auxillou

I got interested in Cardamom exotic spice this year accidentally. My wife and I, in a tour of Eastern Guatemala, ran across a little old lady in the small rural town in a deep valley, called Lanquin. Sort of a Shangri La hidden oasis of holiday quiet. The little old lady was selling small tortilla sized chocolate. We only bought two and regretted it after we got on the bus later in the day when we ate them. They were so delicious. We should have bought the whole caboodle. If only we had known?
The chocolate was combined with cardamomo spice, which grew all around the area of Lanquin on the sides of the steep mountains. It is multi cropped, interspersed with bananas, pine trees and coconut trees. So recently, I decided to read up on it. Fascinating exotic spice. This is what we learned. Guatemala is the biggest producer of CARDOMOMO spice in the world. Introduced by German immigrants that left Belize back before World War 1 for coffee growing Guatemala. India is second producer. The SPICE is the second most expensive spice in the world. Saffron is the top seller spice. World supply is limited and it seems that almost all the crop is bought by the Arabian countries around the Persian Gulf, where it is a staple spice in many dishes.
Fascinating to read, that Costa Rica, Nicaragua and Honduras have tried to grow it and failed. It is apparently difficult to grow. It kind of looks like a bush about 6 to 8 feet high. The difficult thing is it requires a lot of water, or rain and so needs to be grown in a high rainfall area. Usually the Eastern Side of the cordillera in Guatemala, when the Caribbean Trade Winds pile up for a 7 month long rainy season. Now these are not heavy rains, but just a lot of drizzle. The plant likes 2000 to 4000 feet altitude, but I read that it has been grown in lower elevations, like in Sri Lanka.
Would this be a good diversified crop for Belize? Sure would if you can grow it here? The only part of Belize that even fits the description suitable, is the highlands behind, on the slopes of the Belize Alps. Mostly running from back of Monkey River area, and flowing on the South East side of the mountain range, to the Guatemalan border. A deprived area, which could use some cash crop inputs.
This is definitely an Agriculture Department worthwhile experiment. Should not even cost much to experiment. The difficulty is that the plant does not produce pods and their seeds, for three to four years. Then it is productive for another four years. Plenty of local Mayan Indian expertise available in the Department of Alto Verpaz around COBAN in Guatemala. You can even drive there in one day from Belize through Xayache. From my reading, you would have to plant each year and it would have to be interspersed with a tree crop, or shade crop of some alternative growing plants.
When the pods turn green you hand pick them and air dry them. Each pod contains about 10 small seeds. The seeds in the pods are black and sticky. The best quality seeds are ripe, hard and dark brown in color. The plant has a whole lot of medicinal uses. The rhizomes are planted among shade trees. When they get ripe, they shoot up flower spikes that produce the pods. In Guatemala, most farmers are small scale doing about 5 acres in multi cropping scenario.
Will it grow in Belize? You won’t know until you try? The experiment is worthwhile, but you are looking probably at an eight year running experiment? The higher you get above San Antonio village in the Toledo District the better. You can sell all you can grow and the price is high. I can attest to the flavor richness it gives chocolate. Next time in Guatemala, will try to buy some ready made spice, though I believe the whole crop is advance bought by Arab countries. Get a GRANT Agriculture Department and run an experiment down in the Toledo District. You are not going to get any European experts. The experts are all Mayan Indians in the Alto Verpaz area of Guatemala. Set a couple of Mayan Indian families up with land and expenses for eight years and see how it goes? You can only fail! Cheap experiment with plenty of upside economic potential, so it is worth doing.

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