Coimbatore: As Pongal festivities approach, jaggery makers in Salem, the production hub of Tamil Nadu, find themselves in a bittersweet situation. Despite a slight uptick in jaggery prices ahead of the festival, the cheer has been dampened for manufacturers, who contend that the increase is insufficient to cover the growing expenses of production, including rising labor wages and inflation.
C Madhaiyan, president of the Jaggery Manufacturers Association, highlighted, “The price of jaggery saw a marginal increase from an average of Rs 1,250 per ‘sippam’ to a maximum of Rs 1,450 for one ‘sippam’ (30 kg of jaggery) a few days ago. While this may persist until next week before tapering off post-festival, last year’s peak price reached only Rs 1,250 per ‘sippam’.”
Jaggery manufacturers acknowledged the surplus sugarcane harvest due to heavy rains, resulting in a significant drop in sugarcane prices, ranging from Rs 2,200 to Rs 2,500 per tonne. This reduction, compared to over Rs 3,000 in previous seasons, allows manufacturers to save on production costs significantly.
However, neighboring states like Karnataka face a sugarcane shortage due to poor harvests. This year, Tamil Nadu has managed to meet its demand for jaggery production, with sufficient cane availability and successful harvests attributed to a favorable monsoon.
Despite the favorable conditions, the number of jaggery producers in Salem has dwindled to around 150 units, down from approximately 300 units in 2021. S Sathish, a jaggery manufacturer, noted the closure of almost 50% of units within a short span, leading to a drastic drop in overall production.
In response to their challenges, jaggery manufacturers are urging the State government to fulfill their longstanding demand of including jaggery in Pongal kits distributed through Public Distribution System (PDS) outlets. They believe this initiative would not only support their livelihoods but also enhance the traditional significance of Pongal celebrations.
Jaggery production is concentrated in areas such as Kamalapuram, Karuppur, Thottiapuram, Desiangadu, and Akkarapatty in Salem. Although jaggery is also produced in parts of Erode, Namakkal, Tirupur, and Madurai, Salem’s jaggery is renowned for its distinctive aroma and sweetness.