Thursday, January 5, 2012

On Turmeric farming and collapsed Market.


Srilatha Menon spoke to me over phone about Turmeric farming and collapsed market.She has quoted my views,
Kannaiyan








Sreelatha Menon: Invoking the snake god
Turmeric growers caught between plummeting prices and an indifferent government
Sreelatha Menon / New Delhi January 01, 2012, 0:13 IST

The roots of turmeric spread through the earth like veins of gold, offering the growers the value for their sweat. But the year 2011 has not proven to be that lucky for the 15 lakh turmeric cultivators in the country like Devasikamani, who grows turmeric every year on his seven-acre land in Erode, Tamil Nadu. For, there has been a 40 per cent increase in production, say government officials, but the prices have plunged like never before.
Turmeric has seldom let down farmers. The cultivation is confined to a few districts in five states, accounting for 78 per cent of the global output. The imports from some African and Asian countries don’t pose much of a threat either.
Last year, the crop fetched an unprecedented Rs 18,000 per quintal, more than double the usual price. However, in 2011 it was a mere Rs 3,500 per quintal.
Devasikamani has stored his crop, over 140 quintals at home, waiting for the time the prices would improve. But not all could wait. Even he couldn’t for long. The desperation was showing. Now, farmers are pawning their produce with grasping commission agents for interest rates as high as 30 per cent, says S Kannaiyyan of the South Indian Coordination Committee of Farmers Movements. This helps them store and at the same time get credit. But they are also forced to sell at a low price offered by the agents, he says.
Ditto is the case for farmers in Erode, Coimbatore, Salem and Karur in Tamil Nadu. Outsiders don’t even store it in the Erode market. They just leave with the price they get, Kannaiyyan says.
The farmers are a few in numbers but the government has not been able to reach out to them. The Spices Board washes its hands off turmeric and ginger saying the state agriculture departments must intervene.
The Board admits it has a mandate for post-harvest activities, but it has no ‘schemes’, and hence won’t do anything.
"We have provided them turmeric boilers in the past. Now we are asking for new schemes for processing and product development under the next Five Year Plan,’’ says Spices Board Secretary Suresh Kumar.
As for the present crisis of low prices, Kumar says the Board could explore export possibilities in new markets. But that would mean a long wait.
Last month, Devashikamani and fellow farmers from Orissa, Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh met at Sangli in Maharashtra to form a national turmeric growers association.
They want a say in the price of the commodity. They are meeting again in January to announce a new price based on MS Swaminathan's formula of cost of production and 50 per cent profit. Since there is no procurement or support price, the farmers have decided to take the matter in their hands.
The association says it has got an assurance from Minister of state for commerce and industry Jyotiradiya Scindia that imports would be banned. But Kannaiyyan fears the worst if the government doesn’t intervene. Turmeric growers may also follow the same path as the ginger growers in Wayanad where ten suicides have been reported in 2011, he says. The handful of districts that grow turmeric and the 15 lakh farmers need bank loans on their produce and also storage facilities. When farmer organisations recently met Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar, they asked him to study the turmeric growers’ needs for godowns and processing units. Nothing happened so far, says Kannaiyyan.
While departments of spices and agriculture turn their back on ginger, cardamom and turmeric growers, the latter at least can invoke the snake gods… anantham, vasukeem, shesham, padmanabham, kambalam, shankapalam, dhartharashtram, takshakam, kaliyam…and hope that the food for the gods can't ever be enough. Nor their intervention.

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