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Bittersweet Pongal for jaggery makers

State government’s failure to fulfill the long-time demand of including jaggery in Pongal kits through PDS, and the dwindling number of production units has made the festival not-so-sweet for the manufacturers

Bittersweet Pongal for jaggery makers

COIMBATORE: Despite a marginal rise in the price of jaggery ahead of the Pongal festival in Salem, the production hub in Tamil Nadu, the upward tide has not cheered up the manufacturers.

Though the produce this season has fetched a better deal in the market as compared to previous years, it is not sufficient to meet the rising cost of production, including the increase in labour wages, and inflation, claimed most of the jaggery manufacturers.

“The price of jaggery increased marginally from an average of Rs 1,250 per ‘sippam’ to a maximum of Rs 1,450 for one ‘sippam’ (30 kg of jaggery) a few days ago. This price may continue till next week before going down again after the festival. Last year, the jaggery prices peaked at a maximum of only Rs 1,250 per 'sippam',” said C Madhaiyan, president of the Jaggery Manufacturers Association.

Jaggery manufacturers appeared happy with the surplus harvest of sugarcane due to heavy rains. This also led to sugarcane prices falling drastically and was priced between Rs 2,200 and Rs 2,500 per tonne depending on the quality. This was against the price of over Rs 3,000 during previous seasons in the State.

As prices of sugarcane remain low, the manufacturers can save a considerable amount spent on the produce, a major ingredient in jaggery production.

However, sugarcane has been in short supply in neighbouring states like Karnataka due to poor harvests. A few years ago, the farmers in Tamil Nadu were forced to buy cane from Mandya in Karnataka during Pongal to overcome the shortage.

“But this year, we have enough cane to meet the demand for producing jaggery. Even though the acreage of cultivation remains the same, the farmers were able to reap the expected harvest without any loss because of an eventful monsoon,” said the jaggery manufacturers.

Yet, the number of jaggery producers has dwindled to just around 150 units in Salem now. “Around 300 units were churning out jaggery in different parts of Salem in 2021 and during the start of the following year. Thereafter, within a short span of months, almost 50 per cent of them are closed and overall production has also dropped drastically,” said S Sathish, a jaggery manufacturer. Meanwhile, the jaggery manufacturers demanded the State government to fulfill their long-time demand of providing jaggery in Pongal kits to the public through Public Distribution System (PDS) outlets. This move, they say, will revive their livelihood.

Jaggery production is spread over in areas such as Kamalapuram, Karuppur, Thottiapuram, Desiangadu, and Akkarapatty in Salem.

Though it is produced in some parts of Erode, Namakkal, Tirupur, and Madurai too, the jaggery produced in Salem is in high demand for its aroma and sweetness.

V Ashok Kumar
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