Even after the ‘Kodaikanal Malai Poondu (Kodaikanal Hill Garlic) was granted the prestigious ‘Geographical Indication’ (GI) tag, a lack of sellers’ market for this horticulture produce at this hill station remains a serious cause for concern among the garlic growers.
This 120-day spice crop is being cultivated under channel irrigation method at high-altitude hilly areas of Mannavanur, Poomparai, Kavunji, Melmalai, Kookal, Poondi and Vilpatti. But, with no market in place for vending hill garlic locally, the growers have no alternative but to transport their produce all the way from this hill station to a wholesale market at Vadugapatti, a village in Periyakulam taluk, Theni district, K. Vivek, garlic grower from Mannavanur, told DT Next on Sunday.
Now, the wholesale market has witnessed an unprecedented rise in price of this ‘Kodai hill garlic’. Normally, one kg of this garlic fetched a price ranging from Rs 280 to Rs 300, depending on its quality, but of late, its price has jumped from Rs 160 to Rs 480. Since the weather during the last season was not conducive to good growing, its cultivation was affected almost by 90 per cent. A prolonged dry spell certainly affected the cultivation. Such unhealthy situation triggered a drastic decline in yield, pushing up the price, considerably. The garlic growers, who largely rely on rain for their livelihoods, have been going through several hardships as water bodies found in forest areas could not be accessed, and wild animals get their farm lands damaged. Citing these, he said the last thing the garlic growers wanted from the State government is to turn Kodaikanal into a perennial sellers’ market for this ‘Malai Poondu’.
Another garlic farmer, P.S Kirubakaran from Kavunji, said granting GI tag was one of the reasons for the increase in price of this produce. Step cultivation method was mostly adopted to avoid issues of soil erosion. But, growers of this garlic variety would take better care during post-harvest management for this produce to determine the quality is good.
This produce is graded in three levels based on its size and appearance. During such management, quantities of garlic would be smoked and dried before marketing. Such processing method was done naturally in kitchens, where cooking is done in traditional wood burning stoves. Fresh garlic cloves were normally tied up in transparent nets with support of wooden logs in kitchens, where the produce would be exposed to smoke. Since the hilly Kodaikanal experiences cold weather often, such processing method would help keep the produce preserved for a maximum period upto eight months, he said.
A. Usharaja Nandhini, Professor and Head, Department of Biotechnology, Mother Teresa Women’s University, Kodaikanal, who is credited by the garlic growers for her initiative in granting the GI tag, suggested forming an association by the growers would ensure that the market continues to boom.
According to K. Narayanasamy, Deputy Director of Horticulture, Kodaikanal, the hill garlic cultivation soared this year covering 780 hectares against some 600 ha last year. The cultivation cover of this rhizomatic spice crop could go up to 1,000 ha as backend subsidy of Rs 12,000 per ha is being given to increase its cultivation.
In the aftermath of cyclone Gaja, nearly 300 hectares suffered damage. During this 2019-20, 685 ha have been earmarked under this subsidy scheme and around 100 ha have been covered, so far.
Despite offering solar dryers at subsidised cost to process garlic, there were no takers. Since the growers preferred natural method of processing, they had shown no interest in availing of the solar dryer. Further, he said subsidy of Rs 2 lakh was also provided to set up ‘pack house’ at a distance of 600 square feet for processing and grading this produce. More importantly, he said the marketing committee is taking steps to set up a full-fledged sellers’ market for garlic in Kodaikanal.
When contacted, M.V. Chandrasekar, Secretary, Marketing Committee, Dindigul, said a smoke house-cum-godown facility would soon be set up at Poondi village in 1.25 acre of land for garlic under supply chain management. The project was in the pipeline for the last one year, but now tender has been floated and works would soon be taken, he said.