At least 50 per cent of jasmine farmers have now leased out their lands due to labour scarcity; price fluctuation adds to woes

Tiruchi district, one of the major producers of jasmine in the State, is reeling under highly unscientific practices and incredible fluctuation in prices. The flower, which fetched around Rs.1,500 to 1,600 a kg last October-December, which was an offseason, is now selling at around Rs.150 to 160.

“If your jasmine reaches Srirangam Market or Gandhi Market here at 6 a.m., the price is higher by at least Rs.10 a kg than what it could fetch just 10 minutes later. What could fetch you around Rs.100 a kg in the morning, could fall even to Rs.30 kg in the afternoon,” laments Puliyur Nagarajan, president of Tiruchi District Horticultural Producers’ Association.

According to him, at least 1,000 acres in the district are under jasmine involving more than 2,000 farmers. At least 50 per cent of jasmine farmers have now leased out their lands as labour has become scarce.

Cost of cultivation

“My entire family of eight members is involved,” points out R.Thangavalu, who is a fourth generation jasmine farmer.

The cost of cultivation works out to Rs.50, 000 per acre and the plants survive for almost 10 to 15 years if maintained properly.

V.Raju, a major commission merchant in the Srirangam market, says Srirangam and Gandhi Markets handle at least three to five tonnes of jasmine each every day. He admits that there is a phenomenal fluctuation in prices. “There is absolutely nothing scientific about the pricing mechanism. It is all pure supply and demand.”

Besides, the price skyrockets during marriage season (about 110 days), amavasai, pournami, and pradosham. Thus, on an average, there is considerable demand for at least 150 days a year.

The major reason for daily fluctuation is that merchants from several far-off places come here for procurement . They want to reach their destination before noon so that they could sell it at the earliest because the flower loses its value as hours trickle by.

Not scientifically measured

For the past four centuries, the jasmine which has been brought to these two major markets had not been scientifically measured at all.

“Everything was done only by hand. It is only about five years ago, after a long struggle, we could introduce electronic weighing system which has made the transaction transparent,” points out Mr.Nagarajan.

Disturbing question

The most disturbing questions facing these farmers are whether it is possible to fix a stable price at least for a few hours a day and how to avoid the system of “dharma poo” (charity flower) and to bring down commission.

The literal race they engage every morning in taking the flowers to the markets has even led to fatal accidents, they lament. The reason for the “race” is the difference in price, they admit.

Mr.Raju says it is possible to fix a time frame – say between 6 a.m. and 9 a.m. when the price would remain constant. “It all depends upon the unity of the farmers and we traders can do nothing about it.” He wonders why farmers are unwilling to sell to perfume companies in Nilakkottai and Madurai who are prepared to pay Rs.70 a kg even in the afternoon.

“Dharma poo”

The system of “dharma poo” and the commission rate hinge on the system of “interest-free advance” that the farmers receive from the traders. “We give them even Rs.1lakh and more. There is no bond and nothing in writing. But everything is done in a gentlemanly fashion. That is why we in Srirangam market charge 12 paise (12 per cent) commission whereas in Gandhi market, they charge slightly more because they give heftier advance.”

Similarly, “dharma poo” is a system which is hated by farmers. Under this, the trader takes for himself about 200 to 300 gm of flowers by hand from each lot as soon as the flowers land. “It is accepted by the farmers themselves. If they are against it, they could as well ask us to stop it,” says Mr.Raju.

“As an individual I am agreeable to waive dharma poo and reduce my commission to 10 per cent provided they don’t demand advance,” says Mr.Raju.

Farmers agree that there is no unity among them regarding “advance”. “Almost all want advance and are hence unable to wriggle out of the system,” they admit. Hence their misery would continue.