Here's some bad news for all those who are gearing up for Pongal festivities. Sugarcane, also popularly known as 'Pongal Karumbu' or chewing cane, which is traditionally related to the harvest festival, will cost more, this year, mainly because of the reduced area under cultivation due to various factors.
Chewing cane, which is predominantly cultivated in the southern districts of Madurai, Theni and Dindigul was sold at Rs 170 to Rs 200 for one bundle with 15 canes, last year, while this year, the price is about Rs 230 and it may go even higher on Pongal days. However, has come as a respite for the farming community, especially after the losses they suffered in 2011.
In Madurai district, chewing cane is cultivated in Navinipatti, Keelaiyur, Thaniamangalam, Sathamangalam, A Vallalapatti, Karuthapuliampatti of Melur block and Mangulam, Meenakshipuram, Arumbanaur and Kallanthiri in Madurai East block. Many farmers were not able to afford the sudden increase in the prices of seedlings. This reduced production and is the major reason for the price hike.
V Madhavan, a farmer from Thaniamangalam said that farmers in Madurai district cultivated 1,000 hectares last year, but it has come down to just 750 hectares this year, which is the case in adjacent districts as well. Last year, the price of the seedlings suddenly rose to Rs 4,000 per 300 seeds from the earlier cost of Rs 1,200.
"Many of us were not able to afford the sudden increase and the cultivated area has come down due to this factor," he said. But for those who risked the increase, the returns have been very handsome. The fall in production has yielded good prices with a load of 300 canes being sold at Rs 4,000 this year, while it was just Rs 1,800 to Rs 2,000 last year. Farmers have spent Rs 40,000 per acre but the returns are good with Rs 1.5 lakh per acre. Unfortunately, it was not same for the farmers who sold their crop in advance because as shrewd buyers priced them for Rs 2,000 per 300 canes when they bought it in November itself, Madhavan pointed out.
K Ramar, a farmer in Devathanapatti from Theni district also said that the returns were good this year. "Over production in the previous year caused prices to fall drastically and many farmers actually received their produce back from the buyers. Instead of sending the cane to the market, we cut them into pieces for seedlings which gave some respite. This year, many farmers preferred other crops over chewing cane and the production was less," Ramar said. Customers may have to pay higher prices this year but for farmers, the returns are good after many years of losses, he added.
Besides, almost half of the produce goes for exports procured by buyers from other states like Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and up to Gujarat. The canes cultivated at present are mainly for exports while the canes harvested after January 11 will be sold for local demand in all the districts of Tamil Nadu, farmers said.
K Vairavan, dean, Agricultural College and Research Institute, Madurai said that this variety of sugarcane can be used only for eating, as not much research activities have gone into making it viable for any industrial and economic purposes. Due to this, farmers depend on the local varieties they were cultivating for many years.
"It is high time that the government start research works on chewing cane and introduce more varieties in this crop which will benefit the farmers," he said.