What Gives Lakadong Turmeric Its Quality?
The Place —
Many farmers have tried growing Lakadong turmeric in other places without success. Their experience says that there is a difference in quality outside the area. Bah Shadap says some farmers on the Laskein bank of the Myntang River have tried to grow it on the other bank, the Chylliang Myntang. Though the mother rhizomes are original Lakadong the harvest is below par turmeric.
The reason for this could be the terrain, the soil texture and type. Lakadong’s soil ranges from light to medium loam. Its colour is deep to very deep. In Lakadong village area itself, it is a little clayey and sticky compared to other areas of Laskein. That’s why they believe it is highly improbable for Lakadong turmeric to be of same quality if cultivated outside Laskein.
A piece of good news is Lakadong turmeric now has the Geographical Indication Tag. This should be good reason enough for the turmeric farmers of Meghalaya Jaintia Hills to become more pro-active in cultivating the crop.
Traditional Farming Practices in Lakadong —
Bah Shadap took us on a tour of some turmeric fields. At this time of the year, all of them show a spread of yellowing turmeric leaves, signs that the harvest season is closing in.
When December nears its end the leaves’ withering would be complete. Then it would be time to dig the rhizomes out of the soil.
We found some farmers of Meghalaya “Lakadong Country” taking out little harvests for their own consumption. They use the fresh rhizome in their food preparations, including their famous ‘Tungrymbai’, the ‘smelly’ fermented soya bean speciality chutney of the Jaintias. That’s one reason Jaintia Tungrymbai is so distinct in taste.
We learnt a lot about how the farmers of Meghalaya are growing turmeric. One similarity was that almost every family in the village engages in growing turmeric, a community effort in self-sufficiency and livelihood. Some other features are:
- Landholdings are mostly small ones – manageable sizes of one or two acres. There are no extensive fields, except in very few pockets where some community plantations exist, assisted by the government’s agricultural schemes.
- Farming methods are traditional – some farmers also use buffaloes to till the land, which adds to soil fertility.
- Manuring is only with farmyard manure – cow dung, and chicken manure. Never with artificial fertilisers.
- Plantation months – planting is done in March-April and every two months they do weeding depending upon weed growth and intensity. Rainfall is the only source of water. Harvesting occurs in mid-winter months of December-January.
Zizira’s Pure Lakadong Turmeric – Sourcing From the Source
Bah Shadap is a man with a mission, working with missionary zeal. Not only does he scour entire villages in Laskein Block where Lakadong thrives, but he also comes ahead with innovating ideas. Staying on edge himself, he provides the much-desired edge to the Zizira team.
When we visited him on 22nd November, 2018, he revealed to us his future plan of action. He knows too well that turmeric can easily be adulterated. In fact, he has seen many traders do that. They mix with varieties of lower quality and pass off the resultant product as Lakadong. It is difficult for ordinary people to recognize the pure from the mixed.
We wondered aloud. How can producers make adulteration possible in Lakadong country itself? Bah Shadap explains that even the original Lakadong can turn into another variety, the lower quality Lakachein if the plant is not properly tended. The difference shows in the flowers and roots. Cross-pollination may be the reason for this, believes Bah Shadap. The other farmers also seem to think so. They are therefore very careful about choosing the mother rhizome during planting, taking care not to mix Lakadong with other varieties.
He sources the turmeric from the people that grow only Lakadong. There are many of them in the Block, making his grower-suppliers. He visits each and every one of them every now and then to ensure they maintain the traditional way of cultivation. He checks the harvested crop to ensure strict sorting so no other variety creeps in to mix with Lakadong.
The traditional growers use no fertilizers at all. They only use farmyard manure like cow dung, pig manure and chicken manure. Some let buffaloes roam on their fields. Their droppings become natural fertiliser for the fields. Entire fields all over the Block are organic by default.
Turmeric That Made the Village Proud
We were curious about Lakadong village so Bah Shadap took us there. It turns out to be a nondescript place, about an hour’s drive from Raliang. The village elders and leaders we met there were very accommodative too. They were quite proud of the fact that the world’s most famous turmeric is named after their village.
We learnt this story from Bah Langstang, a village elder and farmer. Turmeric used to grow wild in the densely forested areas surrounding present-day Lakadong, Umthalan, Umsaw and Ummyrngai. According to him, Lakadong was an unknown name even half a century ago. Farmers from these villages who were cultivators of rice and other crops would often root out turmeric from the forests on their way home for spicing up their food.
As the years passed the demand for turmeric grew. People then began growing them as a crop. This practice of growing turmeric soon spread across Lakadong and other villages. Now the plant is among the most popular crops in the entire Laskein Block.
The discovery of coal deposits in 2008 however spoilt the people. Easy money and the lure of the lucre made people forget turmeric farming and get into coal mining. Had it not been for the coal mining ban by the National Green Tribunal in 2014 the entire environment would have been devastated beyond recognition because of unplanned ‘rat-hole’ mining.
Even now quite a few turmeric farmers of Meghalaya are not very happy. First, it is tough to process turmeric. The rhizomes first need to be boiled, then sliced and dried before being taken for grinding. Second, market support is bad. Some farmers have abandoned turmeric for ginger or broom grass cultivation because these are easier to grow, need very little post-harvest management and they have a ready market.
We at Zizira are fortunate to have Bah Shadap, a trusted source we can rely upon. With this source, we now ensure that you get the best of the best Lakadong for all your turmeric needs.