The Jaintia Hills District of Meghalaya is home to the finest turmeric in the world with its "Lakadong" variety.
Here, turmeric farming is popular among subsistence and marginal farmers who cultivate it for self-consumption and sale at the local markets. But that doesn't take away the high demand it has both at the national and international spice market.
Lakadong turmeric is believed to have more than 7% curcumin content, (an extract from turmeric which is said to have medicinal properties) that’s one of the highest in the world — that's why we called it the World's Best Turmeric.
Zizira’s explorers recently travelled all over the Jaintia Hills in a bid to work with the turmeric farmers there and in the process, open up the market for them.
Using Mootyrchiah as the base, which we had visited previously, we started our quest for turmeric farmers. The areas growing turmeric in Jaintia hills are located around Shangpung, Sahsniang and Longkasaro — an area we fondly called Lakadong Country.
One could clearly see how turmeric played an important role in the lives of the farmers of the region.
Everywhere we went, we came across houses with heaps of turmeric in their front yards, set out for drying. Turmeric here is currently sold in powdered form and supplied to local markets.
There are about 40 privately owned processing units in the district with an average output of 200 Kg per day. The farmers sell their turmeric at the unregulated local markets called ‘haats’, or weekly markets where traders come from Shillong and Jowai to purchase Lakadong at wholesale rates.
We also encountered organized trading companies procuring turmeric from the weekly haats through local traders. It was obvious that the entire market system is controlled by a handful of local traders and middlemen. And this means that the turmeric farmer is vulnerable to whatever rates decided by the system, which more often than not, favours them the least. So is there any room for improvement?
As we passed through each village and locality, we realized that the impression we were creating was no different from that of traders or middlemen. It was not easy to get a group of farmers together and explain the vision of Zizira and how we were creating markets for them to give them a profitable share for their hard work. However, eventually, we could see their distrust turn to smiles as the farmers began to understand the mission of Zizira.
And given the credentials of Team Zizira, it was only a matter of time before we were able to connect with some of the farmers. All well and done, we were pondering on the possibility of a long term relationship with the farmers. So for this, we needed to dig deep and understand each of their pain points to see where and how Zizira can fill the gaps.
As we spoke with the farmers, one of the issues that they shared regarding turmeric farming was the challenge they faced around production, from initial cost to labour to price volatility.
Turmeric farming is not as easy as we think. It requires hard work. There was a temporary setback among the farmers.
A report on the challenges faced by the turmeric farmers of Jaintia Hills clearly shows how cost plays a critical role in turmeric farming:
The above list is clearly not exhaustive and is in fact, just the tip of the iceberg.
Even as the farmers aspire to grow turmeric on a large scale, given these challenges, the cost, as well as the risk, multiply many folds. And had the farmers not been deprived of their fair share by the middleman, it would have been compensated for the risks that they are taking by going for mass production.
“A local trader came in and asked to buy turmeric from me at a very good price and promised to return on the third day. I was excited and started to slice and dry my freshly harvested turmeric. But it has been more than a week now and still no news from the person. Right now, I’m not very sure about selling the turmeric or to keep waiting for the trader. This is not the first time it has happened. We are often offered ridiculously high price but at the actual time of the sale, the money that we get is lower than what was agreed upon initially”, said a turmeric farmer from Niawkmai
"I grow turmeric all by myself. After curing and processing, I then take my turmeric to Shillong and sell. I know that there are government schemes to help farmers like myself but I am in the dark. Yet, in spite of this, I am continuing what our ancestors have been doing, and that is turmeric farming", said a 70-year-old lady farmer at Lad Mynksan.
There are several other similar stories of market abuse, lack of knowledge of government schemes and many other challenges that the turmeric farmers are facing. At the end of the day, all they want is their produce selling at a rate in line with their hard work and toil so that they are able to provide a better life for their family.
As you see, most of the issues here are related to financial returns which are often squeezed out by the local traders or middlemen.
With grit and a team of leaders, Zizira hopes to open markets for the turmeric farmers of this region and get them better returns.
Do you have any suggestions or ideas on how Zizira can open up markets for the farmers of Northeast India?
Or have you ever come across a farmer who was exploited by middlemen and had no recourse but to continue surviving on a hand-to-mouth model?
We would love to hear from you. Tell us in the comments below.
If you are looking to buy high-quality turmeric, try out Zizira's Lakadong turmeric directly from farmers.