Low prices force the tribal groups to shrink area under cultivation
Harvest of castor beans is under way in almost all the hamlets in Pachamalai. Women workers, in batches, are seen harvesting the castor beans at Top Sengattupatti, Thannerpallam, and Nallamathi villages on the hills spread over Tiruchi and Salem districts.
It is only during the late afternoon that the harvest was being taken up after allowing the beans to dry up to the maximum during the day. The oil seed is grown as an intercrop on the boundaries of tapioca farms, using the local seeds. Pachamalai hills was highly suited for oil seed cultivation because of its red loamy soil, according to official sources. Lack of attractive price for castor had forced the tribal farmers to reduce the area under cultivation. An estimated 40 hectares has been brought under castor cultivation as against 200 hectares till a decade ago.
“Sale of castor involves a lot of process. After harvest, it has to be dried up for about a week’s time under the sun,” says Raju, one of the farmers of Top Sengattupatti. After it is dried, the beans are separated. The average castor seed yield per plant is about 2 kg. The seeds should be plucked at the right time as it bursts after maturity, he says. Private oil mills buy these castor beans from traders in Uppiliyapuram market.
In the absence of assured price for castor, farmers resort to barter system for obtaining the edible oil. Traders from Thuraiyur and Salem bring edible oil to the hills and get the dried castor seeds.
For tribal farmers, the barter system appears comfortable though not much profitable. “Our investment on raising castor is quite negligible and the prices of edible oil are not affordable for us,” he says explaining the advantages of the barter system.