Spectrum: This tangy fruit adds spice to rural lives

Spectrum: This tangy fruit adds spice to rural lives

One scene that dominates the villages of North Karnataka in summer is that of people crushing tamarind. The situation is no different in Shiragumpi, Jumalapura, Hanumasagara, Tavaragera, Balutagi, Gudadur and other villages of Koppal district, where tamarind is a major crop. It’s tamarind everywhere in these areas and all the activities revolve around this tangy fruit. Hundreds of families, both farmers and those who take the trees on lease, engage in tamarind processing, and it has grown to be a big enterprise in the region. 

Earlier people used to sell the harvest to middlemen. But now they process it and do direct marketing. They cater to the markets not just in the State but also outside Karnataka. They also make use of the cold storage units in Raichur to preserve the processed product when the prices are low. The farmers lease the trees in the flowering stage itself. The two parties predict the harvest and a sum is fixed accordingly. While they also sell tamarind on retail in the market, fruit processing is the main activity in this season. The activities include picking the fruit, gathering the harvest, sorting out ripe and raw ones, processing and packing. Processing is again an elaborate process which is generally done in groups. Initially, the pulp is removed from the pod, and seeds from the pulp. Then the pulp is sundried and packed. The seeds are also dried. People of varied age groups engage in the process and do the work that suits them best. One person can remove the pulp of 15 to 25 kg of tamarind in a day. 

The farmers here are traditionally dry land growers but shifted to agroforestry around three decades ago. This has proved to be beneficial for them in spite of water scarcity. They have mostly opted for drip irrigation and in these villages, jamun is grown as an intercrop with tamarind. While the activity generates income for their sustenance they say that it is not profitable. Still, good storage facility and direct marketing have improved the prospects. While the fruit goes to the market, seeds are sent to a company. Hotels purchase the pods and use them as fuel. 

In the South, Koratagere, Madhugiri, Pavagadh and Sira taluks of Tumakuru district have a high concentration of tamarind trees. In Koratagere taluk, tamarind is traditionally grown in thousands of acres. Some families own 100 to 500 trees. It is a reliable crop in parts of Kolar and Chikkaballapur districts as well. In Tumakuru, tamarind trees are also seen along the roads, as a border crop and in the wild, particularly in the Devarayanadurga forest area. In recent times, farmers are growing tamarind in the barren land as it’s water requirement is low. Additionally, the demand for tamarind has increased in the last five years, bringing a steady income for farmers.

Harvesting tamarind is a tough job. One has to beat the pods with a stick and some are experts in the task. A large share of tamarind from Tumakuru goes to Hindupura in Andhra Pradesh, which has the biggest tamarind market in the country. Tamarind season spreads over four months in summer and lack of adequate storage infrastructure has lessened the prospects of the growers here. Tamarind seeds also have a good demand and fetch good price. The fact that Chikkanahalli, a village with 50 households, made a transaction of Rs three crore this year explains the significance of this crop to the people of this region.