A farmer innovation spreads far and wide

Processed cardamom has more market value but processing of cardamom is a labour intensive process. Owing to lack of support from research institutions, farmers in the region have become innovative and have developed suitable technologies for some of the post harvest operations. Cardamom polishing machine is one such farmer innovation which is popular and being widely used by the farmers.

Processing of cardamom which involves drying, polishing, washing, and grading is a tedious and tiresome job which requires almost 70% of total labour requirement. Polishing is the process of removing the flower stalk and other dirt and impurities from hot dried cardamom.A lot of dust is generated during the process. Conventionally this is done by women, kneeling down and hard pressing the cardamom over wire net by hand. The job involves a lot of hard work and injuries to hand are common. Also the dust causes allergy to many.

Farmer innovation

N.J Thomas of Puliyanmala of Idukki district, Kerala started helping his father in cardamom farming at a very young age. They had around three acres of land under cardamom cultivation. As processing of cardamom is a tedious task, Thomas was keen on finding an alternative to this drudgery intensive process. First, he noticed the technique of a honey extractor. Honey extractor consists of a rotating drum with fixed wooden leaves. James tried processing the cardamom using the honey extractor. Initially, he tried processing 5 kg, but it was not successful. The movement was not smooth and he gradually reduced the weight. Once it was reduced to half a kilogram, the cardamom got polished well by getting hard pressed between the inner wall of the drum and the wooden leaves.

Having understood the operational principle, Thomas got the machine done within a week, with the help of a local mechanic. He made a few changes in the design of the honey extractor – the wooden leaves were attached to the shaft rotating with the cylindrical drum, instead of the rotating drum. He changed the drum from being vertical to horizontal. The drum was lined with a wire mesh. The design was made to handle produce of 100 Kg. Initially, the machine was operated manually but later it was motorized using a ½ HP motor. In 1994, Thomas developed a fully functional prototype of cardamom polishing machine. Using this machine, around 10 to 15 kg of cardamom could be polished within 5 minutes, whereas by manual polishing it took half an hour for three labourers to do the same.

Table 1: Time line of diffusion of cardamom polishing machine.
1992-1993 Idea conceived, developed first prototype with honey comb extractor, later modified
1994 Developed fully functionally prototype, demonstrated to farmers. Spices Board officials visited and appreciated, published in Spice India magazine of Spices Board
1995 Made a few more polishing machines, attended the training programmes conducted by Spices Board and demonstrated the functioning of polishing machine. Started own workshop. Large no of farmers visited him. Got award from Spices Board. Media coverage in news paper
1995-1996 Started commercial production, sold more than 25 machines, one of his workshop mechanic started own workshop and started production
1996-1997 More and more workshops in Idukki district start the production by their own. Innovator closed down his workshop
1996-1997 More than 40 workshops in Idukki, adjoining border districts of Tamil Nadu, Cumbum started production of polishing machines. Cumbum is the nearest industrial centre from Idukki
1996-1998 Diffusion to other cardamom growing districts without any involvement of the innovator
1998-2010 These workshops also improved the technology as per the customer feed back. The introduction of exhaust fan for removing the dust, lining with rubber on wooden blades for smoother rubbing, attached sieve for grading the cardamom, collection tray for dust are some of the additions. Parts of the machine become replaceable. Overall aesthetics has been improved. But the principle remains the same.

Spreading far and wide

Thomas invited fellow farmers to share his innovation. They all appreciated him and requested him to make the machine for them.

Very soon he visited the Spices Board field office and requested field officers to see his innovation. The Spices Board officials appreciated the innovation, gave a name CARPOL (cardamom polishing machine) for his innovation and took all steps to popularize this machine. Spices board featured this innovation in the popular magazine of spices board ‘Spice India”. Local media also highlighted this innovation. Huge demand for the machine surprised him. The news slowly spread among the farming community. Every week, at least 100 farmers visited Thomas’ farm.

Spices Board arranged several training programmes in villages, where they invited Mr. Thomas for demonstrating the machine. At least 50 seminars and training programmes were organised for the farmers. This increased the popularity of the machine among the growers. Thomas also received an award from Spices Board.

This resulted in enhanced popularity for him, especially among the officers of the Spices Board.

Thomas started commercial production with the help of local mechanics. He made 25 machines and sold them at a unit price of Rs 5200. Very soon all the workshops in his area started making the machine. Since these workshops had all the facilities and sufficient machineries, Thomas was not able to compete with them. So he stopped the production and encouraged these workshops to make the machine. Within 2-3 years, a number of workshops in Idukki started the production of cardamom polishing machine on their own. In a short span of 5 years, this cardamom polishing machine became very popular.

A lot of improvement and refinement has been made by the local mechanics and workshops in a span of 10 to 13 years (1995 to 2008). But the basic concept and technology remains the same. The introduction of exhaust fan for removing the dust, rubber lining on wooden blades for smoother rubbing, sieve for grading the cardamom, tray for dust collection are some of the additions. Parts of the machine became replaceable. Overall aesthetics was improved.

Today, wherever cardamom is being processed, this model is being used. And Thomas is very proud of it. Though Thomas did not patent his innovation and reap its benefits, he is happy that his innovation has addressed the pressing problem in this sector. Thomas is also happy that his innovation has been recognised by the Spices Board, accepted and used widely by farmers in the region.

T J James

Director, Innoaction India
Innoaction India, Aaz complex, Calvary Junction, Poothole, Thrissur-680004, Kerala

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