Tribal farmers on Pachamalai Hills, many of whom are tapioca cultivators, have been forced to spend for transporting their produce to sago mills.
Not less than 50 loads of tapioca are transported from the hills in ten-tonnage lorries every day to sago industries in Salem, Namakkal, Attur, and and Pappireddipatti. On an average, transport expenditure at the rate of ₹8000 to₹ 9000 a load works out to over ₹ four lakh a day, and ₹ 1.2 crore a month, during the harvest season. They have to keep shelling out money due to what they describe as the “wily designs” of middlemen who have cemented their position as conduit between sago industries and cultivators. Earlier this month, tribal farmers on the hills floated Pachamalai Organic Farmers Producers Company to market the crops grown by avoiding middlemen. A positive impact is expected in the long run.
The middlemen, former president of Pachamalai Panchayat Sivakumar says, have formed a cartel that not only determines the price but also extends influence to the industry to stall any effort by farmers to have direct touch with manufacturers. “Industries direct us back to middlemen who ultimately have the last laugh,” he said.
The complex problem has an easy solution – establishment of a sago unit on the hills. But, it is just not happening for reasons unknown. The problem is worsening year after year due to decline in productivity. The cultivators say the problem caused by progressive deterioration of soil quality has been precipitated by destruction of crops by peacocks and wild boars.
The government machinery, farmers emphasise, would not only mitigate their economic woes but also bring about a transformation in the sago industry by starting a production unit on the hills, as the elimination of arbitrariness in pricing in such an eventuality will be applicable throughout the State.