Sugar cane grown in waterlogged fields has high water content, diluting jaggery’s quality
The pouring rain in Marayur has come as a setback for sugar cane farmers. The change in climate will impact the production and quality of Marayur jaggery, which had recently received the Geographical Indication tag.
For the past two weeks, the household jaggery making units are remaining closed, with bundles of sugar cane lying unused. Jaggery production requires a sunny climate as dry sugar cane bagasse is used to ignite fire in jaggery units’ hearths. But, the prime issue is change in quality, since sugar cane juice with high water content takes more time to thicken.
Marayur, in the rainshadow area east of the Western Ghats, usually has a mild climate favourable for sugar cane cultivation. The northeast monsoon here is characterised by mild rainfall and sunny climate, which suits sugar cane cultivation. Selvin Mariyappan, a farmer and chief of the Marayur Hills Agriculture Development Society (MHADS), an agency for marketing Marayur jaggery, told on Saturday that sugar cane grown in waterlogged fields was stunted. Hence production of jaggery too drops.
The present sugar cane fields were once paddy fields. Over the years, sugar cane farmers had shifted to crops such as areca nut, coconut, and pepper due to non-remunerative prices and lack of irrigation facilities.
Agencies such as MHADS are trying hard to retain sugar cane cultivation as Marayur jaggery is known for its unique quality. Mr. Mariyappan said the demand for Marayur jaggery had gone up after it received the GI tag.
It is now sold at the agro-market in Thiruvananthapuram. If government agencies purchase Marayur jaggery in bulk and market it in districtwise agro-markets, the increased demand could be met.
“We are trying to sell pure Marayur jaggery to consumers and to fetch the farmer a profitable price of ₹80 a kg,” he said. This was required to arrest conversion of sugar cane fields for other crops.