A political slugfest has broken out in Telangana over the failed promise of the BJP to set up a national turmeric board in Nizamabad, the largest turmeric producing hub in the country.
The farmers of the region have been on an agitation mode for a long time now demanding the establishment of turmeric board in Nizamabad. Farmers say the board would help them in accessing marketing linkages, improving productivity and quality of the produce. Besides, they are hopeful that such a mechanism would facilitate appropriate market interventions and ensure remunerative price.
The ruling Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) and the BJP are locked in a bitter war of words over the issue as the hapless farmers watch the unfolding political drama helplessly.
The shocking defeat of the Chief Minister K Chandrasekhar Rao’s daughter K Kavitha from Nizamabad Lok Sabha constituency in the last year’s elections was largely attributed to the farmers’ anger over their unfulfilled demand.
The tables have now turned on the BJP which had promised to set up the board ‘within five days’ of the announcement of election results. The BJP’s D. Aravind had emerged as a ‘giant killer’ by defeating the TRS rival in the prestigious constituency. However, the hopes of farmers have been dashed with the Centre rejecting their key demand.
The 2019 Lok Sabha polls also saw a novel protest from Nizamabad farmers as they had filed 178 nominations, forcing the Election Commission to make special arrangements for the conduct of polls.
Instead of a separate turmeric board, the Centre has now proposed to ‘upgrade’ the divisional office of the Spices Board of India in Nizamabad to a regional office. The announcement, made by Union Minister for Commerce Piyush Goyal recently, did not go down well with the agitating farmers as it amounted to rubbing salt to the injury.
“This is just an eyewash. The regional centre will not be of any help. Only a turmeric board will solve our crisis,” said Avinash Reddy, president of the Telangana Kisan Congress president.
“If turmeric board is established here, the processing units will come up and exports would also be done from the state itself,” he argued.
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Though the regional office of the spices board, to be headed by a Deputy Director-level officer, is ostensibly meant for promoting exports and production and quality of the spices in the region, the farmers’ organisations argue that there would be no exclusive focus on turmeric as over 100 spices, including turmeric, come under the purview of the spices board.
“A high-value crop like turmeric deserves a separate board on the lines of rubber and silk boards. The mandate of the spice board is too big because it handles several spices,” says P. Chengal Reddy, an agriculture expert.
In a role reversal, the TRS has now thrown its weight behind the farmers and opened a new battlefront to attack the saffron party for failing to keep up its word. The contention of the regional party in the run-up to the 2019 Lok Sabha elections was that it had tried its best to convince the NDA government to sanction turmeric board but all its efforts went in vain.
The Nizamabad MP, however, defended the Centre’s decision to set up a regional office of the spices board on the ground that it would lead to improved coordination with the Centre as far as the quality, production and export of the crop was concerned.
The TRS is keen to seize the opportunity to retrieve the lost ground in Nizambad by leading the fight on behalf of farmers.
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At present, the turmeric farmers hardly get ₹6,000 per quintal. Unless they get at least ₹8,000 per quintal, they cannot recover the costs. This apart, they hope that the board would help them in finding market which pays them a better price, providing training to improve the yield.
Telangana tops in turmeric cultivation with 53, 500 hectares, which is about one-third of the country’s turmeric acreage of 1.70 lakh hectares. It produces 3.04 lakh tonnes of turmeric against the total domestic production of 13 lakh tonnes.
Despite being the world’s largest producer of turmeric, India exports only 6% of its production. Lack of special zones to promote exports is cited as one of the reasons.
Telangana needs a supply of high yielding and high curcumin content varieties. According to A.B. Remashree, Director (Research and Development), Spices Board, the curcumin percentage in Telangana variety is low when compared to the crop grown in the North East.
Curcumin is known for its anti-inflammatory, anti-tumour and antioxidant properties. Turmeric is widely used in food, medicinal purpose, pharmaceuticals, dyes and cosmetics in India, South Asian countries, Middle East, Africa and Europe.
“For the last 15 years, we have been fighting for turmeric board. The proposal for regional office of spices board is an old one and has already been rejected by the farmers,” said K Narasimha Naidu, president of Telangana Turmeric Farmers Association (TTFA).
He also demanded that the farmers be paid a minimum price of ₹15,000 per quintal.
As a majority of turmeric growers are small and marginal farmers, with very small landholdings, they cannot afford any scientific management of their crops. The input subsidy available to other spices is not extended to this important spice crop. The post-harvest activities are carried out by the farmer in a very unscientific manner resulting in loss of product and quality. There are also no processing facilities in any part of Telangana for this important cash crop.
The spices board accords top priority for other spices like pepper, cardamom, cloves and chillies, though the export earnings on turmeric are quite substantial.
Considering its food, medicinal and commercial applications, export potential and the fact that the cash crop is being produced by a large number of small and marginal farmers, there is a demand for establishing turmeric board.