Molten jaggery being poured onto a wooden  platform
Molten jaggery being poured onto a wooden platformPhoto | TP Sooraj

Sugar rush from Alangadu in Kerala

TNIE lensman T P Sooraj spends a day at Alangad to witness efforts to revive sugarcane cultivation and jaggery production in the region

KOCHI: A sweet revolution is taking place on the banks of Periyar — the revival of a once-forgotten crop. To rejuvenate sugarcane farming in the Periyar river basin and restore the prominence of ‘Alangadan sharkara’, the Ernakulam Krishi Vigyan Kendra (KVK) of ICAR-Central Marine Fisheries Research Institute has established a jaggery production unit in Alangad.

Till around 60 years ago, Alangad was known for its homegrown sugarcane and jaggery, which was even served in the feasts of royal families, says Shinoj Subrahmanian, principal scientist and head of KVK, Ernakulam.

“Due to high labour costs and lack of technological developments in farming, sugarcane disappeared from the region’s agri-map,” he adds.

Today, most jaggeries available in Kerala come from outside the state. However, there is a high demand for homegrown, traditional varieties. For example, Marayoor sharkara. “But Marayoor alone cannot meet the state’s demand,” says Shinoj.

This was what invariably led KVK to reintroduce and popularise Alangadan sharkara. Its primary goal is to produce chemical-free, high-quality jaggery and establish a branded marketing channel for jaggery from Alangad, potentially earning it a Geographical Indication (GI) tag in the future.

The first set of sugarcane was planted in the 2022 November-December period and it was ready for harvest next December. KVK sourced CO86032, a high-yielding and disease-resistant sugarcane strain from ICAR-Sugarcane Breeding Institute, Coimbatore.

“Initially, farmers were reluctant. But as we presented the idea of a jaggery production unit, 11 farmers joined. More joined thereafter,” Shinoj says.

The team had also visited Marayoor to understand how to make jaggery the traditional way.

“The harvest started stage by stage during March-April. It’s continuing even now. The unit, set up in February this year, with support from Alangad Co-operative Bank, has a capacity of 80kg per day. Currently, 25kg of jaggery is being made daily,” he adds.

With harvest and production in full swing, more farmers are keen to join the drive. The homegrown jaggery is now available for `180 per kg from the Alangad Co-op Bank.

The New Indian Express