Martha Lilly Peediyakkan is a final year PhD scholar and a Graduate Teaching Assistant at the Sociology department of the University of Auckland. Martha holds a bachelor’s degree in psychology and two master’s degree in public administration (MA and MPhil) with specialization in Development Administration. She also has diverse work experience in the corporate sector, civil society, as well as in academia. This exposure has encouraged her to adopt an inter-disciplinary approach while engaging in her PhD thesis work titled, Hegemonic Land Struggles: A Historical Materialist Study of Sikkim State in India.
From cash crop to carbon crop: The case of large cardamom in Sikkim, India
The ongoing debates on the shift from subsistence agrarian practices to commercial agriculture, supported by the ‘developmental’ moral rhetoric of poverty alleviation, have only gained momentum following the advent of neoliberal land grabbing. This paper intends to contribute to this debate by studying the political economy of global carbon trading, cash crop promotion, and related green grabbing in Sikkim, India. Based on empirical research and a critical analysis of state-NGO reports, the study critiques the state-driven promotion of organic large cardamom production in the Himalayan state. It discusses the transition of large cardamom production practices from traditional indigenous agroforestry to state-driven monocropping of hybrid varieties. It critiques the forest ban imposed on indigenous people that not only led to dwindling crop productivity but also intensified rural disparity. In continuation, empirical evidence highlights that poorly planned developmental projects in the eco-sensitive mountainous terrain of Sikkim have also contributed to the agrarian crisis. In 2018, Sikkim became the first Indian state to adopt 100% organic farming. In recent years, ecologists have emphasized the potential of Sikkim’s organic large cardamom to act as a carbon-sequestering crop making it eligible for carbon funding. This is against the backdrop wherein the processing of large cardamom using renewable energy has already been attracting climate-resilience financing. As of now, following the advent of the REDD+ projects, the state has taken special efforts to attract global carbon trading to ‘enhance’ the production and processing segments of the large cardamom supply chain. The paper argues that the lack of transparency around state-driven carbon trading processes appears to suggest that it is mostly the elites: the state-international aid agency-NGO-traditional landlord nexus that benefits from these initiatives. It highlights how, consequently, the prevalent forms of elitist land grabbing have aggravated in Sikkim. While traditional landlords such as the Kazi class rush to buy off the land from poor indigenous Sikkimese; the state is taking measures to convert fallow land to large cardamom plantations. Overall, the study concludes that more than a cash crop, Sikkim’s organic large cardamom has today transitioned to a carbon crop.
Affiliation: University of Auckland