Monday, September 25, 2023
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farmers: It’s bitter sweet Pongal for sugarcane farmers

It is that time of the year when families sit together peeling and chewing on sugarcane with purple-coloured skin and have desserts made of jaggery. But over the years, urbanisation and fast food have led to the fading of this familiar tradition and in turn hit sales of sugarcane and jaggery.
With less than 10 days to go for Pongal festival, jaggery manufacturing has picked up in Madurai district. Units churn out bags of jaggery or ‘vellam’ for sale in Madurai and other districts, but sugarcane farmers have little to celebrate as the procurement price for jaggery has fallen this year despite production cost going up significantly.
“The procurement price 1kg of jaggery is around Rs 40 this year, we expected it to be Rs 45 Rs 50 so farmers are disappointed,” said V Kannan, a sugarcane farmer from Valasai.
Farmers also said the Covid-19 pandemic had hit them hard as they could not run their units for months last year. Jaggery is manufactured in Madurai in sugarcane crushing and jaggery manufacturing units located in villages in and around Alanganallur and Melur. Though the number of units has decreased over time, many farmers across Madurai district continue to depend on jaggery manufacturing.
The process is arduous — harvesting sugarcane, crushing into juice, making syrup and then cooling it to make balls of ‘vellam’. “We spend around Rs60,000 to Rs1 lakh on farming one acre of sugarcane and produce jaggery that weighs around 40kg. However, 10kg of jaggery is being bought only for Rs400 this year in auctions. This was the same price in 2016. But, in 2016, other costs we incurred were also significantly less so it is not fair,” said M Alagar, another sugarcane farmer from Kottaimedu.
Sugarcane sellers also rue that despite chewable sugarcane being good for health, youngsters aren’t keen to try it. “Not long ago a bundle of sugarcane was sold for Rs600 during the Pongal festival. But, now the demand has come down significantly. We are also facing losses as all other costs, especially transport costs, have skyrocketed. We can only pray for good luck,” said Muthukumar.

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