Mission Lakadong – Changing lives in Meghalaya

A humble Rhizome is all set to propel socio-economic development of cultivators in the Jaintia Hills of Meghalaya. Thanks to Mission Lakadong, a unique variety of turmeric, native to this part of the country, will soon overthrow imposters and gain its rightful place in the market.

Major pharmaceutical companies and spice sellers have already started lining up for a share of the pie. Some have even offered to set up processing units in the region that will lead to generation of jobs and further economic development.

Lakadong Turmeric gets its name from the Lakadong village in the West Jaintia Hills district. Once the potency of this variety of turmeric came to be known to the world, not only as a spice or dye but also a pharmaceutical product, several locations across India, as well as countries in Southeast Asia, started claiming that they grow it too.

Much more worrying is the fact that fake Lakadong Turmeric is being packaged and sold online at a premium with a tag that the product has been sourced from Meghalaya.

So, what is so great about turmeric and the Lakadong variety? Turmeric, among other things, contains curcumin. While researchers had already established that curcumin works against vector-borne diseases like malaria and filaria that continue to claim thousands of lives in third world countries and render many incapable of normal movement, it has now come to be known that Curcumin also works as an anti-cancer drug.

No wonder, some of the largest pharmaceutical companies have started lining up at Jaintia Hills.

The Jaintia Hills and turmeric are synonymous in a way. While Lakadong Turmeric that has 2 per cent more curcumin than other varieties of turmeric, the growers were not aware of the value of their product. Primarily, they were disorganised with no research available. Many fell prey to middlemen and unscrupulous traders who paid them a pittance and sold the Lakadong Turmeric at a premium. Modern ways of farming, irrigation and post-harvest storage facilities were unknown to such small and marginal farmers till Mission Lakadong was launched.

Meghalaya grows three varieties of turmeric – Lakadong, Laskein and Ladaw. Of these, Lakadong has the greatest demand. It has 7.4 per cent curcumin content with very high commercial value. The volatile oil content in dry turmeric of this variety is between 3.6 per cent and 4.8 per cent.

High quality Lakadong turmeric is grown on about 1,898 hectares in Meghalaya. Nearly 58 per cent of this is in the West Jaintia Hills and the West Garo Hills has about 20.2 per cent due to favourable soil and climate. The state produces nearly 16,000 tonnes of turmeric annually. Of this, 72 per cent is contributed by the Khasi-Jaintia Hills and 28 per cent by the Garo Hills.

“The produce could have been much higher had villagers not been attracted towards coal mining in the region. Fortunately, coal mining activity has been stopped after a National Green Tribunal order of 2014. Villagers are now returning to farming. However, there was no organised set-up to arrange for the disposal of the crop though efforts were made. That is where Mission Lakadong is important. Researchers are of the opinion that the land for Lakadong cultivation can be increased. The aim is to produce 50,000 metric tonnes of this variety of turmeric by 2023,” an official said.

So far, Mission Lakadong has been able to increase production to 11,832 tonnes. This has benefitted more than 13,000 farmers. To help out small scale farmers, 15 Collective Marketing Centres have been set up along with two processing units.

The effort has not gone unnoticed. Trinity Saioo, a local agri-entrepreneur was conferred the Padma Shri for mobilising women to set up Self Help Groups (SHGs) and grow the Lakadong variety of turmeric.

The government of Meghalaya has assured all help in training farmers, providing them with better seeds and granting loans. Irrigation facilities will also be provided. Mission Lakadong will also ensure post-harvest storage and educate farmers to deal with buyers so they receive a fair price for their produce. In this case, a fair price means a lot given the demand for Lakadong turmeric globally.

In cafes across the world, a small quantity of Lakadong Turmeric is sprinkled into cups of latte and a premium rate charged. Most importantly, efforts are on to get a Geographical Indication (GI) tag for Lakadong Turmeric to prevent imposters from selling fake products.

Meghalaya Chief Minister Conrad K. Sangma said: “Mission Lakadong has successfully revitalized turmeric farming in the Jaintia Hills region with 13 times increase in the number of farmers engaged in turmeric cultivation and a 66 per cent growth in production. Strategic initiatives such as GI tagging, traceability of Lakadong turmeric and establishment of curcumin extraction units are being taken up to pave way for sustainability of the Mission efforts. I personally believe that our efforts have laid the foundation for generations to reap the benefits of Lakadong cultivation and we strive to make Lakadong turmeric from Meghalaya a world-renowned commodity.”

Saioo is well known to turmeric lovers across the world. The 52-year-old woman from Meghalaya has transformed the Lakadong Turmeric industry in the state by not only taking the initiative to preserve the plant but has also been instrumental in helping farmers to obtain subsidies and engage in organic farming.

She has also spearheaded women-led farming in the state. With the help of the Mission Lakadong, she has helped women with organic certification, marketing and documentation to avail subsidies. Today, more than 900 farmers are cultivating more than 1,000 hectares of land with Saioo.

“This Mission is a very noble support from the Government and I wish to be part of it, as much as possible,” she said.

The costs involved are far less than the returns. The government of Meghalaya has pitched in with all support to this programme and thousands of Turmeric growers in the state will benefit. Many of them are women who have already started reaping the benefits of the project. The effort has also brought about innovation.

Local entrepreneur D Suchiang has created a brand ‘Na-Kper’ which has been widely recognised globally. Recently, the brand won the SIAL India Innovations Award.

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