Cardamom first appeared in Guatemala at the beginning of the 20th century. After a young German, Oscar Kloeffer, introduced it as an aroma for medicines, the few seeds soon spread throughout the country.
One of the areas in which cardamom cultivation increased most dramatically is the municipality of Ixcán in the region of El Quiché, where an excellent product is obtained.
Ixcán is also where one of the country’s bloodiest civil wars took place in the1980s-1990s, which finally ended in 1996. It is home to five different ethnic groups (Q’eqchì, Q’anjob’al, Mam, Kichè and Ladinos) that are engaged primarily in agriculture.
The diffusion of cardamom production helped create job opportunities, especially over the last decade, when market value skyrocketed due to international demand (from the US, Europe and Arab nations). However, the decline of the market in the past five years has resulted in a drastic reduction of prices with the inevitable economic and social consequences for locals.
Today, the cultivation of cardamom covers approximately 32% of the agricultural area and involves a little less than 50% of the Ixcán farming population, who are forced to sell their product practically at production cost despite its quality.
Cultivated in tropical areas between 600m and 1500m altitude, cardamom is a fruit from the Zinziberaceae family. It consists of small, dark, extremely fragrant seeds enclosed in triangular green pods. The aroma is bittersweet and similar to lemon.
Afterwards, the cardamom is dried for about 24 hours before being sold (as seeds, grains or powder). Cardamom is an antiseptic, aids digestion and is considered an effective antidote against ailments of old age.
In order to protect this production Slow Food has established a Presidium involving 130 families who cultivate verde, considered to be the most precious cardamom variety due to its dimensions, color and aroma.
In 2000 the local organization Asociacion Integral de Productores Organicos de Ixcan (ASIPOI) was created, which works to promote environmentally, economically, socially and culturally sustainable development in the community. The Presidium involved the communities and families of producers interested in the project and together they worked to define a production protocol and improve the production chain.
Subsequently, the Presidium dedicated itself to developing cardamom-based products (such as infusions and a liquor) and to self-promotion on the national market. Furthermore, thanks to the contribution of the Slow Food Foundation for Biodiversity, a warehouse has been built to store the cardamom before it is sold.
What is a Slow Food Presidia?
The Slow Food Presidia are projects sustaining quality production at risk of extinction, protecting unique regions and ecosystems, recovering traditional processing methods, safeguarding native breeds and local plant varieties.
Check out our website: http://www.slowfoodfoundation.com/presidia
Photos — Luca Rinaldini