Rooting for a yellow revolution

A school mistress spearheads a turmeric farming movement in Meghalaya, writes Mongabay India correspondent Sahana Ghosh

EXPANSIVE Lakadong turmeric farm.

Fifty-two-year-old Trinity Saioo in Meghalaya has never heard of turmeric lattes that have gained a cult following in the ever-expanding list of healthy beverages. But every day, after the school she teaches in gets over, Saioo the teacher diligently tends to her farms of the ‘golden spice’ that is the core ingredient behind the latte trend.

Far from the madding crowd that has jumped on to the turmeric-wellness bandwagon, Saioo, an award-winning turmeric farmer from Mulieh village in the northeastern state, has been silently leading 800 women in her state to cultivate and boost the popularity of the indigenous, high-curcumin content Lakadong variety of the spice.

Lakadong turmeric. PHOTO Courtesy: DEPARTMENT OF AGRICULTURE, MEGHALAYA
Lakadong turmeric. PHOTO Courtesy: DEPARTMENT OF AGRICULTURE, MEGHALAYA

Bringing about change

Saioo has been hand-holding women to blaze their own trails to success, reaching out to women farmers from her own village first. Mulieh and several other adjoining villages, that form the epicentre of the Lakadong variety of turmeric, lie in the eponymously named area in the rugged terrains of Meghalaya’s West Jaintia Hills, the notorious coal-belt of the state.

The Jaintia Hills (split into east and west) produce at least three turmeric varieties — Lachein, Lakadong and Ladaw, each with its distinct identity.

“My mother also farmed turmeric. So it was a very natural transition for me to start doing the same,” recalled a proud Saioo, who was recently awarded by the Union Ministry of Agriculture for excellence in horticulture production. Buoyed by her success, Meghalaya’s Department of Agriculture is relying on Saioo’s leadership to take Mission Lakadong forward to mobilise growers to expand the area of Lakadong turmeric farming in West Jaintia Hills. According to the Indian Council for Agricultural Research, Lakadong has seven per cent curcumin, two per cent higher than varieties available in the Indian markets. “But I realised that most of the women were growing the Lachein variety of turmeric, which had low yield and low curcumin content. It had no market demand. The Lakadong variety used to be grown earlier, but lately, there has been a decline in the production of turmeric,” Saioo said.

It is believed that the coal mining boom around 20 to 30 years ago and the high margins offered by mining and exports, lured farmers away from turmeric farming. However, after the 2014 ban on coal mining imposed by India’s National Green Tribunal (because of the use of the dangerous rat-hole method), many of those who had crossed over to mining switched back to turmeric farming.

Lakadong turmeric is proven to have two percent more curcumin content as compared to other Indian turmeric varieties.
Lakadong turmeric is proven to have two percent more curcumin content as compared to other Indian turmeric varieties.

 

Saioo’s tryst with Lakadong began in 2003. After she experimented with Lakadong in her fields, she observed that it doubled her income in contrast to when she grew the Lachein variety. “I realised that other farmers were not aware of the benefits of growing Lakadong. The high cost of the seed tubers was also a hindrance for the poor farmers,” Saioo said.
Saioo received training from the state’s agriculture and horticulture departments on improving the yield of Lakadong turmeric and with the Spices Board by her side, she helped illiterate women to complete their documentation and avail subsidies for seed tubers as well as organic certification to switch to the high-yielding variety.

Over the course of the last decade, Saioo has been instrumental in reviving the Life Spice Federation of Self-Help Groups, which currently has 100 self-help groups as members. She has pushed for policy advocacy, implementation of schemes and marketing of Lakadong turmeric.

Trinity Saioo
Trinity Saioo

Challenges ahead

But upscaling production has been a challenge due to the lack of an organised supply chain, concedes Saioo.

“We send out some of the products to Kerala, Karnataka and other northeasternstates but it is still not an organised process. There is a good demand in the market and we have our own government-established aggregation and processing hub but unless we streamline the supply we can’t run it profitably,” said Saioo, referring to the demand among private players. According to the Mission Lakadong document, private players have started making inroads into the turmeric-growing villages of Jaintia Hills to source the spice and cash in on the default organic nature of the turmeric and its high curcumin content.

Comments (+)