Marayur in the Anchunadu valley is famous for sandal and jaggery, in addition to historically important dolmens and cave paintings.
It is the main jaggery-producing centre in the State and Marayur jaggery once ruled the market for its high quality. However, over the years, production has dwindled and sugarcane fields have slowly made way for areca nut, coconut, and other cultivations. As per data available with the Krishibhavan, there was a 60 per cent drop in area under sugarcane cultivation at Kanthallur and Marayur in the past one decade.
A recent survey found that only 1,000 acres of land is under sugarcane cultivation in the region now in place of the nearly 2,500 acres a decade ago. Farmers say that the change in crop pattern is due to high labour cost and non-remunerative prices of jaggery. They say that low-quality jaggery from Tamil Nadu is packaged under the label of Marayur jaggery, making competition difficult in the market.
Below production cost
Manikandan, a farmer, says that the price of jaggery per kilogram is Rs.43, which almost equals its average cost of production. He says a kg of jaggery should fetch at least Rs.55 to make it profitable.
“At times, we have to sell it at prices below the cost of production. It is natural that farmers shift to other crops,” he adds.
Severe shortage of labour and high labour costs are other factors, he says.
Though, Horticorp, Milma, and the Forest Department had promised that they would directly procure jaggery from farmers, the promises still remain on paper.
An office-bearer of the Marayur Jaggery Producers Society says that it is the Marayur jaggery that is used for making aravana payasam at Sabarimala. If a government agency procured the jaggery from farmers, no fake products will reach the market as Marayur jaggery.