JOSEPH and Annet Serwadda were worried. Their neighbours had started losing their coffee to the coffee wilt disease. The couple knew it was just a matter of time before their 1,000 clonal coffee seedlings, which they had just planted, also started wilting.
As they waited for the inevitable, the Sserwaddas pondered their next move, in case the disease struck. It was their Local Council chairman, Micheal Kikomeko, who came up with a solution. While on a mobilisation tour of their village, Kikomeko suggested that the couple tries cardamom and black pepper. But they would first need to undergo specialised training.
"If you are interested, you will have to undergo specialised training jointly conducted by Uganda Crop Industries Limited and a private spice growing company called Sezibwa Estate," Kikomeko explained to them.
In February 2008, after their third training workshop, the couple was given 800 cardamom seedlings to test their acquired skills.
They were later added 2,500 cardamom and 100 black pepper seedlings.
"Our cardamom is growing very well. This season we hope to harvest about 1,000kg from the first batch we planted," reveals Sserwadda.
Inter-planted with African Albizia trees, coffee, black pepper, and bananas, the cardamom covers four acres. A spacing of 10ft by 10ft is given to each plant, to ensure it grows well.
Besides acting as support for black pepper, Albizia trees increase soil fertility when they drop their leaves, act as wind breakers and give shade to the crops growing beneath them.
According to Sezibwa Estate's general manager, Mansoor Nadir, farmers are given seedlings and farm tools as a loan, which they pay back with part of the proceeds from their first harvest.
On the average it takes about a quarter (25%) of the first harvest to cover the loan. The farmers are organised into groups whose leaders are each given a bicycle to facilitate their movement as they monitor their members.
Sezibwa Estate is working with 300 certified organic out growers, 180 of them females while 120 are male. The out growers are located in Mukono, Buikwe, Bundibugyo, Kabarole, Jinja and Kyenjojo districts while another 3,000 farmers are in the process of being certified.
What is cardamom?
Cardamom spice is a member of the Ginger family called Zingiberaceae. It has three varieties; Elettaria, Amomum and Aframomum.
It is believed to have been brought to India in 1214 AD. It is also grown in Malaysia, Sri Lanka, Sumatra, Nepal, Madagascar, mainland Africa, Thailand, and Central America.
Despite the fact that most species are not indigenous in the areas where they are commonly grown, they thrive there because local climatic conditions favour them.
Cardamom does well in altitudes ranging from 900 to 1370 metres above sea level.
Warm and humid climate conditions and well distributed rainfall are essential for Cardamom growth. In Uganda, the best possible time for planting cardamom is from June to July.
How it is grown
Cardamom is usually multiplied by splitting the root system of a mature plant into several individual rhizomes, with the help of a sharp knife. It can also be reproduced from seeds. Once split, the individual rhizomes are planted in well prepared pits.
Seeds of the cardamom need to be planted in deep rich loamy soil. The soil can be enriched with rotted decomposed organic matter on elevated beds.
One acre takes up 500 cardamom seedlings. A cardamom seedling costs sh300 each while that of Albizia is sh400.
Seeds can also be obtained from ripe fruits harvested from a mature cardamom plant.
Seeds meant for propagation purposes should be collected from mature healthy plants.
The seeds can be planted soon after being collected from the parent plant.
On average, cardamom seeds begin germinating between five and seven weeks after planting. They are ready for transplantation after reaching a height of about 25-30cm and bearing a couple of leaves. A Cardamom plant needs a shady area with moderate sunshine to grow well.
Cardamom plants should be planted about six to18 inches apart. The seedlings do not need any support. The plant beds need to be watered moderately as too much water can be harmful.
Regular weeding is important for healthy growth and high yields. You should remove old and dying shoots on top of regulating the shade, mulching, manuring and applying fertilizers.
The plant grows in a thick clump of up to 20 leafy shoots. It can reach a height of between two to almost 6 metres. Leaves are dark green, long and sword-shaped. Flowers on a long flowering stalk can grow to more than one metre long. They are both male and female and are pale green. One of the petals is white and streaked with violet.
Cardamom does not like droughts, sudden changes of temperature or direct sunlight. It responds well in a warm, steamy and shady place. Cardamom is grown under various timber trees, including teak, mahogany and albizia.
Cardamom reaches the stage of harvest after two-and-half years. Its pods sold for cooking are picked when unripe so the seeds will not grow if you try to sow them. The average harvest per cardamom crop is 5kg (fresh) per season if the agronomic practices have been followed. But records have shown that up to 10kg can be harvested.
Cardamom has two harvesting seasons in a year - March to April and October to November. Apart from the peak period, on a regular basis every two weeks about 0.5kg is harvested throughout the year in case of good rains and agronomic practices.
Storage of cardamom
Some farmers store it near strong smelling substances like paraffin, or mix it with soil and charcoal which is wrong. The best way to store cardamom is in a glass or plastic container that is airtight. This helps prevent moisture from getting into it.
Extra care is required when storing cardamom that is in powder form, as it is more vulnerable to dampness hence getting spoilt. Therefore, it is best to purchase and store cardamom in its whole form, and powder it if you need to use it that way.
It is the small black seeds of the cardamom that hold the main aroma of the spice. They are contained within a pod. Each cardamom crop gives a minimum of 10kg per annum. Thus, 500 seedlings per acre give you 5,000kg.
The farm gate price of each kilogram of fresh or dried cardamom bought by Sezibwa Estate is sh3,000 and sh10,000 respectively.
Cardamom is both a spice used in preparing various dishes, and a medicinal herb, used to treat painful teeth and bleeding gums. It can be chewed.
Sucking cardamom can help treat a sore throat, a congested respiratory tract, painful teeth, bad breath, and gas filled stomach, and pulmonary tuberculosis, inflammation of eyelids, lung congestion and digestive disorders.
Cardamom is also used to develop an antidote for venom from snake and scorpion. In the past, people used cardamom as deodorant and breath fresheners. Regular consumption of cardamom lowers the risk of heart disease risks and cholesterol levels.