It seems that Telangana government and Central government in Delhi are playing with the sentiments and emotions of turmeric farmers especially in North Telangana districts i.e Nizamabad, Warangal & Karimnagar. Instead of conveying the truth and educating the farmers in right directions, respective governments and their representatives are adding fuel to the fire. Farmers are being constantly betrayed and given false promises and shown fortune overnight for mere political gains. Neither the intent nor spirit of the government is in right direction for the farmers. Most of the government agencies and the officers on ground know that the problem is different and we are finding solutions and remedies with a different medicine which shall not bring relief but aggravate issues further.
Why Turmeric farmers are angry:
Farmers in Nizamabad are traditionally growing Turmeric from decades as a livelihood and legacy from their family predecessors. Turmeric is grown in 60,000 acres in common Nizamabad district alone and around 12,000 acres in adjoining districts like Karimnagar and Warangal. The average investment cost of Turmeric is 1.2 lakh to 1.5lakh per acre. Average yield is 20 Quintals per acre and the average price which turmeric fetches is 4000 Rs to 5000rs. Farmers are demanding prices in between 10,000Rs to 20,000Rs per quintal, which is hard to substantiate as MSP from government as it will lead to loses for government exchequer. There is a huge gap between market price, MSP and the price expected from farmers’ side. Also the quality of the produce and the practices used for post-harvest practices are too old and traditional which lowers the quality for export. Many farmers have committed suicides over high high input costs and no viable alternatives available at their end, making it a politically sensitive issue for vote bank. Earlier TRS MLA Ms. Kavitha who had promised heaven for these farmers did nothing in 5 years and now current BJP MLA had won just on one objective of promising farmers a turmeric board and showed it as one point solution for all their problems. Both politicians have brought votes by promising unviable solutions for Turmeric farmers for their own gains.
Turmeric board will not solve the problem:
It would be a disaster if government will form a Turmeric board just to solve the farmer’s problems as it would be a white elephant to maintain over the period of time. People should know that already government has a Spice Board and Turmeric is listed as one of the components in spice board which has its office closely by in Warangal district. Rather using the services of spice board to the fullest, forming an additional board with manpower will be hard to maintain on long run for just one seasonal crop. In addition with Spice board there is APEDA which coordinates on exports and market linkages and Department of Horticulture of respective states and National Horticulture board are active which overlooks the crop productivity and enhancement of the crop helping farmers. Forming a board would be just another building like Coffee board or coconut board which have not bring any great results for farmers on ground except for just being an official entity.
What is the actual problem (Low Curcumin content):
Government should clearly inform the farmers of Telangana that the Curcumin (key active ingredient) content in Turmeric grown in Nizamabad is 2 to 3% or even lower which is too low for realization industrially. But many half knowledge experts have instigated farmers informing that people in other parts of the country and world fetch 15000Rs per ton average and the middle men involved are eating away all the share of the price. This was the false propaganda which many people have circulated among the farmers without informing them that the prices of Turmeric depend on the curcumin content. Low Curcumin content, Not enough cold storage facilities, lack of better curcumin yielding varieties and lack of latest techniques and inputs easily available with farmers is aggravating the problems multifold. In addition to that no big processing units are available in Nizamabad due to the low realization of Curcumin which just gets used as turmeric powder and does not add to the value proposition and active ingredient extraction used for medicinal properties.
Are Middle Men responsible?
At the moment the involvement of middle men in Nizamabad and adjoining areas are curtailed and limited as many farmers trying to sell the produce directly but even then the prices remain the same. National Horticulture board is already working on cluster farming modules and many cluster farming associations are functioning in Nizamabad but they have not yielded required results. Most of the middle men have now opted out of the business and concentrating on other crops and produce as Turmeric had become more of a political commodity rather than farmers commodity. Many traders have lost huge money due to the constant strikes, farmers’ agitations and false propaganda against them in recent years for political gains. Many traders agree that there was a time when traders used to get good margins on turmeric trade but off late their margins are well below 1 to 2% and claim that it’s too hard to survive on trading turmeric for the risks they take. They instead sell as local trade or prefer high grade turmeric with high curcumin content for exports which fetches them better price and they are sourcing the same mostly from Eastern India.
There are much better ways as per me to address this issue. There is no immediate one shot solution or one universal short cut for this problem. Instead of knee jerk reactions to farmers’ apathy, government should work on long terms strategy.
- At first immediately government should start supplying high yielding curcumin content varieties at a mass scale by local breeding and growing in nurseries and circulating the same to farmers.
- Lakadong Turmeric which has 7 to 8% of curcumin content and distinctive flavour & colour is grown in North east and very specific to Meghalaya can be breeded with local varieties and develop new local varieties with high curcumin content immediate effect.
- There should be a campaign to educate and make awareness programs on better cultivation, post-harvest practices with latest technologies to farmers.
- Cluster farming modules with no upward linkage with market will be a failure inspite of good results at backend. Hence Market linkages should be strengthened with close coordination of National Horticulture board, Spice board & APEDA and not do the same activity in tandem.
- Input subsidy at 75% should be given to farmers or cluster for cultivators, inputs, micro irrigation, micro fertigation & post-harvest equipment which shall reduce the cost burden on farmers bringing the average capital expenditure.
- Export subsidy can be initiated through DGFT which can increase the exports and also check China and Indonesia whcich are posing as threat for our exports in international market.
- Farmers should be clearly communicated that MSP based on curcumin content will be given and not on produced quantity. This will slowly allow farmers to adopt and inculcate new technology, culture and practice for quality produce.
- Monocropping is a big problem persistent in these areas, farmers should be educated in crop rotation areas wise with diversification of crops. Intensive campaign should be made in this aspect to promote this cause which shall be a long term solution for the problem.
Let’s not invent new things but rather concentrate on existing things which adds value to the lives of farmers and be prepared for market harshness and realities.
(The author Bharath Kumar Thota is Agriculture economist, Food Technologist and Farmer himself).