Cardamom is a plant that grows naturally in the foothills of the so-named Cardamom Mountains in Cambodia, mostly in Pursat province. In addition to being a spice for food, it is also sometimes used in traditional herbal medicine.

There is high market demand for cardamom, but the supply is still insufficient and people are forced to go deeper into the forests to find the plants. This kind of rare plant in protected areas is dwindling and raising concerns that it could become extinct.

In the past, the Ministry of Environment has visited the communities there to teach people how to choose adult cardamom and avoid the removal of seedlings, which is what could lead to the plant disappearing from the area.

The community has also tried to plant cardamom and cultivate it, but without success as the cardamom doesn’t seem to thrive in these conditions. Recently, two communities have experimented with grafting cardamom onto other plants and growing it on a large scale to turn it into a community business.

The O’Choam Nature Reserve community in Battambang province grows cardamom on 5ha of land. According to the community leader Kim Song, the 5ha of land is jointly owned by the community and is managed by a community committee.

The community was established in 2008 and has a population of about 300 families. It also has tourism potential as there are waterfalls within hiking distance of the village.

Kim Song said that most of the 300 families were farmers and a small portion depended on natural resources, but he expected cardamom cultivation could be a new business for the community.

“We planted them by learning from Thailand, because in Thailand they can grow it. We grafted it and planted it on 5ha of community land . . . In addition, we’ve also distributed 40 per cent of the seedlings to 20 families to try to plant it as well.”

“We do not dare test it on all 5ha of land, we are afraid that if we are technically wrong somewhere we could lose the whole crop, so now we’ll try to test it on 2ha of land first,” he said.

According to Kim Song, around March the grafted cardamom seedlings will start to grow and if the plant is successful the community will continue to graft as well as continue to grow to increase yields.

If successful, the community plans to distribute seedlings to other communities and what they harvest will be purchased from them by the O’Choam community or they can find a market to sell it themselves.

The community leader expressed his ambition: “If successful, we want to penetrate the Cambodian market in all areas by providing cardamom seedlings and teaching the technique of grafting.”

When selling cardamom plants, the community can divide the income into several parts, with the cardamom stalk used as a vegetable for frying and the flowers also being sold to neighboring countries, where they are used for medicinal purposes.

Cardamom can be sold at prices between 10,000 and 40,000 riel per kilogram, which is a big improvement for the O’Choam community as compared to other available crops.