A Brief Insight Into the Plight of the Turmeric Farmers of Meghalaya
“I sold my cow to pay for post-harvest turmeric processing thinking it would pay off, but it was not to be”, laments a Northeast India farmer from Mawtneng, a village in Ri-Bhoi district, which is about 35 km from Shillong. And when we dug deeper, we realised how this farmer had no other option. The farmers of this area have been growing ginger, turmeric and other crops as a source of their livelihood for generations. But over the years, their problems have been multiplying, and market access continues to be one of their biggest challenges.
When Team Zizira visited Mawtneng, we were faced by a sceptical group of farmers. One of the farmers, Mr. Evermore Sten stepped forward and spoke to us at length about the problems that he and his friends had been facing. Mr. Sten doubled as a teacher as well as a farmer himself.
Prohibitive Land Holdings
Mr. Sten then took us to one of the turmeric fields and the first thing that struck us was the small size of the plot itself. It could not have been more than a mere 2,000 square feet! When we asked him about the average land holding, we learnt that on an average it is not more than about half an acre. It got us wondering how a farmer could make a decent living from such a small plot. And not all farmers had the luxury or the privilege of owning their own plots of land. They would pay rent in cash or kind or both in exchange for the use of the land.
|Farmers own small plots of land averaging about half an acre. While there are those who have their own plots, others have to rent or lease the land.|
Buried to Stock or Rot?
One of the farmers then went down on his haunches and using his bare hands clawed at the loosely packed earth and showed us raw turmeric rhizomes. The look on his face carried both hope and repressed anger and we found out why soon enough. All the turmeric was similarly buried underground and was in fact harvested in January 2015! When we asked the obvious question, he told us that the prices that they were fetching and the cost incurred made no sense at all. Aside from the cost of the rhizomes and the sowing-related labour expenses, it costs ₹ 4.00 per kilo for labour to just unearth, clean and cut the rhizomes for drying. When he first started planting turmeric, he was very optimistic that he would be able to make a good return and so had no doubts about selling his cow for a paltry sum of ₹30,000 to cover the cost of post-harvest processing. But it was not to be and his produce ended up being stored underground for over a year!
|This crop of turmeric has been lying unused and unsold since it was harvested in January 2015. The farmers are sad because the harvest may spoil by the end of 2016.|
Exploited and Backed into a Corner
The more time we spent with the farmers the more they shared with us. Another lady farmer told us how a middle man approached her and her husband to grow nine tonnes of turmeric. But the trader refused to pay any advance and the farmer couple did not go through with the deal.
Another similar tale we gathered from the farmers of Laskein, Jowai was about a trader who asked them to put together as much of their dried turmeric together for him to purchase. But the trader never showed up and since then the turmeric has been lying untouched and constantly reminding the farmers how helpless they are.
What is most appalling is that the farmers in Mawtneng know that with the rains coming this year, the rhizomes will most likely spoil, thus rendering them useless. They have little or no option at all and have resorted to selling the raw turmeric in small lots of three or four kilos. Needless to say, every time such a sale concludes, it is only a painful reminder of how less they are getting in return for the huge amount of time, resources and most of all hope, that they invested initially.
The Northeast India farmer is no different from the farmers in the rest of the country. They are doing only what they know best and doing it in the most honest, sincere and genuine way that only a farmer can. Zizira’s aim is to bring to your attention similar stories so that we can raise the level of awareness about the plight of the people who are directly responsible for the food that we all eat.
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