A year after the famed organic turmeric of Odisha’s Kandhamal district received the geographical indication (GI) tag, thousands of farmers who hoped to make a profit out of the tag are cursing themselves.
With COVID-19 sweeping across the region, the farmers have been left in the lurch due to procurement of the herb being badly affected by the pandemic.
Though Kandhamal saw a bumper yield this year, less than 20% of raw turmeric has been sold so far, leaving the rest of the produce with the farmers.
“I had grown turmeric in one acre of land. I am not able to sell five quintal of turmeric as no local trader is ready to give me above ₹40 per kg,” said Kiabisi Majhi of Mundibali village under Tumudibandh block of Kandhamal.
Like Mr. Majhi, a majority of the turmeric farmers have failed to sell their produce as its procurement price has nosedived in Kandhamal, a region where farmer suicides are hardly heard.
“In many interior villages, farmers have not even been approached by local traders. Those who were in urgent need of cash had no choice, but to sell turmeric at throwaway price of ₹30 to ₹35 per kg,” said Raja Karna, a farmer of Bandhaguda village in Firingia block of the district.
Taking advantage of the COVID-19 restrictions, unscrupulous traders have been quoting per kg turmeric price at below ₹40 whereas Kandhamal Apex Spices Association for Marketing (KASAM), the government-backed cooperative agency, offers ₹60 per kg.
With more than 60% of the geographical area covered with hills and forest, Kandhamal offers suitable agro‐climatic condition for cultivation of various spices mainly turmeric, ginger, mustard and tamarind.
‘Kandhamal Haladi’ for which GI tag has been received is a pure organic product. Tribals grow the herbs without applying fertiliser or pesticide. The aromatic value and golden yellow colour of ‘Kandhamal Haladi’ make it different from the rest.
The cultivation begins in the summer months of April and May and the harvest is during December to February. The raw turmeric is then boiled and sun-dried.
For 60,000 families, turmeric is the only cash crop with the collective production exceeding 26,000 tonnes annually in the district. Around March when farmers were getting ready to sell their produce, the nation went into lockdown in the wake of the pandemic.
“Of around 26,000 turmeric produced in Kandhamal, we procure only 5,000 tonnes which is roughly around 20% of production. Traders from other districts and States buy turmeric directly from farmers who are mostly tribals,” said KASAM secretary Sanjit Patnaik.
The restriction in vehicular movement and fear of contracting the infection prevented outside traders from visiting Kandhamal this year. According to Mr. Patnaik, KASAM which by now procures 600-1,000 tonnes of turmeric has purchased only 300-400 tonnes.
Third party tests
The turmeric procurement was also hit as the third party tests which was required for certification of ‘Kandhamal Haladi’ being organic product were not carried out due to lockdown. Although ‘Kandhamal Haladi’ is exported to other States and countries, farmers will not get value of products due disruption in procurement.
Despite turmeric of previous year remaining unsold, farmers have already advanced into another turmeric cultivation season.
“Turmeric, which needs low input cost for farming, is an important cash crop for farmers in Kandhamal. While paddy farming, collection of forest produces and millet cultivation take care of food requirement, farmers meet other expenses from the turmeric farming. COVID-19 has hit farmers badly this year,” said Kailash Dandapat, a Daringbadi-based social activist.
The State government’s intervention was urgently required at a time when farmers were facing a scenario of distress sale, said Mr. Dandapat.