In what could be called a sweet initiative, Muzaffarnagar is hosting a first-of-its-kind Gur Mahotsav (jaggery festival) at the end of this month.
Scheduled to begin on May 30, the three-day festival promises to bring together different stakeholders involved in the research, production and marketing of jaggery. The event is being organised under the State government’s ‘one district, one product’ scheme, in partnership with private players, and will focus on issues such as packaging and marketing of jaggery and sugarcane juice, more efficient prototypes and working models of crushers and ways to increase the production of organic gur.
“Muzaffarnagar is arguably the biggest mandi (marketplace) of gur in Asia. Here the farmers produce around 60 varieties of it. The festival is being used as an opportunity to update our data bank on the production of jaggery and the number of kolhus (crushers) in the district,” said Amit Kumar, Additional District Magistrate, Muzaffarnagar.
“Packaging and marketing are important issues as gur is much more than just a piece of sweet that you end your dinner with. It has medicinal properties and some feel that using gur in tea is healthier than adding sugar. The festival will address this gur versus sugar debate,” said Dr. Alok Gupta, head of Department of Mechanical Engineering at the Shriram Group of Colleges, the venue of the festival.
Dr. Gupta, who is also the festival convener, said technologically advanced variants of crushers that are being used in Maharashtra will also be showcased. “Arrangements are being made to bring them to Muzaffarnagar for demonstration. If the process gets delayed, we might have to push the festival by a day or two.”
“We are doing microbiological research on how to make gur a product that could be consumed all through the year by putting edible preservatives. That’s why we are scheduling the festival in off season,” said Dr. Bushra Aquil, who teaches in the college’s agriculture department.
According to Muzaffarnagar market secretary Rakesh Kumar Singh, around 10,74,838 quintals of jaggery were sold in the mandi in 2018-19. “One of the biggest worries is the use of chemicals in jaggery production. We are making farmers aware of the ill-effects of indiscriminate use of chemical fertilisers and the festival is another step in that direction.”
He also pointed out that sugarcane juice could be packaged and marketed like apple juice has been promoted by Himachal Pradesh. “Even buttermilk comes in packets now. So why not cane juice? It could last a month with preservatives.”
Another concern, according to Mr. Singh, is the growing menace of the jaggery mafia which buys directly from the farmers, causing loss of revenue to the government. On the jaggery-sugar debate, Mr. Singh said while the price at which mills buy sugarcane is fixed by the government, jaggery prices fluctuate according to the market pulse. “Last December, it went down to ₹2,200 a quintal. So farmers prefer to sell most of their produce to sugar mills.”
Having said that, Mr. Singh added, in villages, shakkar (powdered jaggery) tea is still fairly common. “It is for the urban population to realise its potential. If the demand increases, farmers will respond.”