Sodium carbonate, sodium bicarbonate, sodium hydrosulphite and phosphoric acid are some of the chemical clarificants that you would be consuming while you savour a nutritious jaggery recipe. The strange combination of healthy nutrients and harmful chemicals in jaggery is made by producers to please the consumers who have an eye for bright colours. An unmindful preference for light yellow-coloured jaggery has resulted in the indiscriminate use of chemical clarificants, much above the permissible level, during production. This practice not only makes this nutritious sweetener unhealthy, but also affects its taste and storability.
Producers’ preference for synthetic additives as clarificants has also affected organic sugar cane growers. “The struggle to get our turn at the alemane (jaggery-making unit) was more tedious than growing the crop organically,” says Sanganagouda Patil, a farmer in Mudhol taluk. He explains how difficult it was to persuade alemane owners to process sugar cane without chemicals. After all the effort, if they didn’t find a suitable market, they had to sell it at the regular market. But the situation has changed since 2013 thanks to the Organic Jaggery Technology Park, better known as Organic Jaggery Park, that has been set up in Mudhol.
This jaggery-processing unit is one of the three units — the other two are in Mandya and Sankeshwar — set up by a collaborative project, Rashtriya Krishi Vikas Yojana (RKVY), of the State and the Central Government in 2013. The main intention of the Park is to ensure hygienic, chemical-free processing of jaggery. “The unit works just like a mill. Farmers bring their sugar cane, pay a nominal fee and get it processed. Marketing is their responsibility,” says C P Chandrashekhar, head of the Park. But farmers know that it’s not just that. The Jaggery Park is supporting them in multiple ways. Be it creating a network of farmers, developing sugar cane varieties suitable for jaggery, or facilitating market linkage, the Jaggery Park has made a promising beginning.
The popularity of the Jaggery Park is the result of its continuous efforts to support better-quality jaggery production since the project was initiated in 2010. A team led by Chandrashekhar studied various jaggery-making units of Karnataka and Maharashtra and brought home solutions for most of the problems affecting the jaggery industry in the region. “We incorporated better technologies to ensure that the process is hygienic and efficient. This results in high-quality production,” says Chandrashekhar. They have installed fuel-efficient furnaces, designed by the scientists of the Indian Institute of Science, Bengaluru, which has reduced the fuel requirement considerably. The traditional belt-driven crusher is replaced by energy efficient gear-driven crusher. A four-stage filtering of the juice removes most of its impurities. The unit has state-of-the-art facilities like a roofed storage space for sugar cane, high-quality stainless steel pans and utensils, a hygienic store room for jaggery and a well-equipped lab. Natural lime, herbal clarificants like ladies finger mucilage and edible oil are used in the process, ensuring the safety of the product.
The Park has a storage space where farmers can keep the product and sell it as and when there is a demand. Preference is given to organic farmers. If the jaggery-processing unit is unoccupied, farmers who apply chemical inputs are allowed to access it. But the Park maintains its policy of chemical-free jaggery production. “There are three types of jaggery — chemical jaggery (chemical inputs are used at all stages), chemical-free jaggery (the crop is grown with chemical inputs while the processing is free of chemicals) and organic jaggery (free of chemical inputs at all stages),” explains Chandrashekhar.
Farmers of Mudhol, Jamakhandi, Bagalakote and Mahalingapura taluks make use of the facility. In 2013 the Park produced 27 tonnes of jaggery while in 2014 the quantity increased to 90 tonnes. The jaggery is not bleached and the colour remains brown. Sometimes the shade of jaggery alters based on the variety used. The Park produces different types of jaggery including one-kg lump jaggery, locally known as pente bella, jaggery powder and jaggery pellets. Jaggery powder, which could be used instead of sugar, is popular among urban consumers. The shelf life of pente bella is six months while jaggery powder can be stored for two years. The jaggery is sold at Rs 50 per kg at the Park’s outlet.
Mudhol to Moscow
The Jaggery Park has also tried creating market links for growers. It recently facilitated farmers to export 50 tonnes of jaggery pellet to Russia through Alexander Usanin, a trader, who appreciated the hygiene maintained during jaggery production and preferred organic to chemical jaggery. Shrinivas, who hails from a farming family in Mahalingapura taluk, has launched a new brand, Arogyanics, to sell organic jaggery produced at the Park. The product is now available at select outlets in Bengaluru. “Initially retailers were hesitant to purchase the product. After a few weeks they started approaching me with orders. Now we struggle to balance production and demand,” he says. Another firm, Sepra Exim, sells the product in Hyderabad. Jaggery is also sold locally. Some of the traders have shown interest to export the product to UK.
The Park is also engaged in research to develop varieties that are suitable for jaggery production. A recently introduced variety, SNK 7680, meets the long-time demand of farmers for non-flowering sugar cane. The RKVY project ended in March 2015 and now the Organic Jaggery Park is run with funds from the University of Agricultural Sciences, Dharwad.
The efforts of the Jaggery Park has renewed farmers’ interest in organic cultivation of sugar cane and chemical-free jaggery production. Venkatesh, a young farmer, has shifted to organic cultivation of sugar cane since 2013 and has even set up a organic jaggery production unit. Some farmers, who earlier prefered selling sugar cane to sugar factories, opt for jaggery production and contact the Park. Jaggery production, though involves market-risk brings more returns to farmers . The Park plans to develop an organic jaggery cluster in the region and encourage youth to collaborate. C P Chandrashekhar can be contacted on 7829165693.