The only flower in the State to have a Geographical Indication (GI) mark, the famous jasmine variant, Madurai ‘malli,’ may soon be gracing foreign lands through an initiative proposed by the Tamil Nadu Agriculture Department.

“A plan to export the Madurai ‘malli’ has been proposed by the State department following visits to Chennai by officials from Malaysia. We have sought a discussion on a feasibility study of this project by consulting farmers from districts surrounding Madurai,” said J Thavasamuthu, secretary of the Madurai Market Committee and the core committee organiser for the project. This project also involves studying the export potential of coconuts from Coimbatore and millet from Dindigul.

At a meeting of farmers groups held at Uthapanaickanur near Usilampatti on Wednesday, government officials and representatives from non-governmental organisations working with the groups discussed the opportunities available for exporting Madurai ‘malli.’ A plan to form a producers’ company at the initial stage where farmers can directly engage in production and sale was proposed to the groups. By engaging the farmers interested in export in the discussion, the role of middlemen could be avoided at the outset. This, the officials, said would benefit farmers as they can reap the profits.

Representatives of 30 farmers groups from places such as Kalathur, Usilampatti, Mahalingapuram and Vinayakapuram were briefed on the importance of value-addition to their produce. “Instead of exporting unstrung flowers, garlands and hair pieces made of ‘malli’ will have greater demand and will command higher prices,” says Shankar Narayan, Assistant General Manager, National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development (NABARD).

The farmers welcomed the idea of forming a producers’ company and entering into exports but voiced their concerns about price stability and volume of exports. “Prices have to be fixed for a specific period of time, say a year, and should be sustained. Fluctuating prices brought us heavy losses when we were previously involved with scent manufacturing companies,” said T Andi, a farmer.

Around 650 farmers grow Madurai ‘malli’ in land holdings that are not more than a hectare in size. The scarcity of rainfall over the last two years has drastically reduced the yield. Adding to their woes is the fact that the number of cultivators have steadily decreased owing to farmers opting to work under the 100-day employment scheme, they said.

“An acre of land used to yield at least 50 to 60 kilos of ‘malli’ every day. Now, we are lucky if we get 4 kilos,” said M. Jayaraj from Mahalingapuram.

Many farmers were optimistic about the idea of exporting the flower. “If a big group of us works together, we just need to give a kilo of ‘malli’ every day and still have some flowers left to sell to the traders” said G Kasi. “If the export business picks up, we can pursue it fulltime” he said.

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