The heart of the world's cardamom supply is found in the mountains surrounding the Polochic river basin in Guatemala. While India actually produces more cardamom than Guatemala, almost all of it is consumed in India. The Guatemalan harvest begins in September and concludes in February. Most of the cardamom is grown on small farms, often on steep and rugged terrain.
As the typical harvest season begins, buyers comb the region, looking to secure quantities of pods at cheap prices -- only to resell the cardamom to larger middlemen. A typical supply chain has six to seven buyers or middlemen from field to American suppliers. These buyers add little or no value, other than gradually moving small batches of cardamom out of the mountains and consolidating it at a seaport for export.
That's why Frontier chooses to work directly through our Well Earth Sourcing Program program with a cooperative of farmer co-ops in Guatemala. These farmers get the best prices, market information, and technical assistance to insure a good economic return on one of their most important cash crops.
At the Santa Maria farmers' co-op in Guatemala, we visited the farmers who started growing organic cardamom four years ago. Organic farmer Lorenzo Ich receives a 6% to 10% premium for his organic cardamom depending on its quality. Besides the price, Lorenzo and his fellow co-op members enjoy a kind of prestige that comes along with being an organic farmer. The co-op taught him how to be an organic farmer -- how to manage his soil, his paperwork and his crops -- so he can provide for his family a little better when he sells his organic cardamom each year.
Lorenzo harvests each cardamom plant every two weeks, starting as the first fruits ripen in early September and making the last harvest in February. Pods harvested too early will be low quality -- both light in color and light in flavor. Pods left on the plant too long burst open and lose their seeds, so Lorenzo must be diligent in his harvesting in order to insure he gets the most production. The whole co-op turns out for the harvest, with farm families moving from field to field and helping each other with the harvest. Older kids also help when they are not in the co-op's school.
Lorenzo and the rest of the Santa Maria co-op are members of a cooperative that is a Well Earth supplier. The co-op not only acts as the marketing arm for its members, it also provides a wide array of services, such as:
Come with sourcing expert Kai Stark to Guatemala, and meet the small farming cooperative of indigenous Maya families who grow our organic cardamom.
© 2014 Frontier Co-op. All rights reserved.