Saturday, February 14, 2015

White Sugar vs Jaggery-indian contradictions

White sugar dominates the sweetener market in the country and both the sugar cane growers as well as the sugar mills have a symbiotic relationship and an organic linkage because of captive supply of cane grown in a certain area to nearby mills as per the law. Though India is one of the top sugar producing countries in the world, both the farmer as well as the industry are in doldrums due to many reasons. Payment arrears by the mills to the farmers run to thousands of crores of rupees while the mills are complaining about losses due to lower realization of prices for their product. Thus no one seems to be happy because of this multibillion industry as it exists to day. Adding to this problem is the declining prices ruling in the global sugar market making export also unattractive. If this is so, why not the government discourage cultivation of sugar cane and shift the land presently being used for cane cultivation for growing more critical food crops like oilseeds and pulses? Though this is an issue persisting for the last few years, no political courage seems to be evident among successive governments at Delhi.

There is another side story to sugar saga in this country which pertains to the low profile operation by a little known industry making another product from sugar cane viz Jaggery or Gud as it is known properly. Jaggery industry is a much neglected sector with no adequate oversight by the government, producing a range of jaggery products with non-uniform standards, filthy manufacturing environment and ill defined process parameters. Indian population uses jaggery as an essential ingredient in many of the traditional food preparations and the market can be enormously varying. Consumers are left at the mercy of the non-descript manufacturers and unreliable traders. Will this situation change for the better? After all almost 30% of the sugarcane harvested in the country estimated at about 260 million tons (MT) annually is thought to be going to the jaggery industry and this sector just cannot be ignored any more.

What is the difference between sugar and jaggery and why is that people prefer white sugar as a common sweetener in their day to day life? There are reasons such as the unattractive color of jaggery, its characteristic caramelized taste not liked by many, its unsuitably to make many products because of its physical properties, indifferent and non-uniform quality credentials and high cost compared to sugar. Jaggery is largely confined to micro and cottage scale operations near sugar growing areas and depend heavily on supplies of cane from the same belt as that linked to large sugar factories. Many traditional food preparations use Jaggery as a sweetener while sugar is the favored one for the food industry, especially for sweet products and by the house holds for beverages and traditional Indian sweets. What is intriguing is the vast price difference between sugar and jaggery, the latter almost 50-60% costlier though it is produced by a small scale sector with practically no over head expenditure in production costing. Besides jaggery yield is almost 100% of the sugar content in the cane juice making the process more economical. Management pundits may say that it is just a response to the demand supply situation!

Chemically white sugar is almost 100% sucrose with traces of minerals, Jaggery has about 3-10% water.with sucrose and reducing sugars being the major solids. Jaggery has some mineral constituents amounting to about 0.6 to 1%. Nutritionally the minerals like iron (10 mg%), Calcium (120 mg%), Magnesium (200 mg%), Potassium (800 mg%), Phosphorus (70 mg%) besides trace amounts of  Copper and Zinc. As it is a product made by prolonged boiling for hours together in open pans almost all biological nutrients are destroyed in the process. Still it is considered traditionally a nutritious substance used extensively in Ayurvedic medicines and traditional home remedies. No doubt white sugar production and over consumption in modern world is one of the great follies of mankind for which we are regretting to day collectively!

A typical Jaggey making unit is normally housed in a dilapidated tiled or asbestos roofed "shed". with no kutcha flooring, ill ventilated, full of cobwebs and fly infested and during the manufacturing operation the shed is ful of smoke literally choking the workers, doing the chores. The bagasse, after juice extraction is used as fuel for boiling the cane juice on an open hearth, naturally spewing out copious smoke all around. The cleanliness, sanitation and hygiene are so bade one has to see it to believe. Any consumer visiting such a unit will think twice before buying Jaggey again. Of course there are many exceptions where better managed Jaggery units also exist though they are far and few. It is in this context one has to appreciate the initiatives of the two agricultural university in Karnataka at Dharward and Bangalore deserve applause for setting up modern jaggery making units based on good manufacturing practices at Mudhol and Mandya. 

It is just about 2-3 years since these units were established and they seem to be doing a decent job considering the normal work pace associated with government institutions. The Jaggery Center at Mudhol in Bagalkot District is already reported to be producing organic Jaggery with a capacity to crush 40 tons of cane a day. The Jaggery Park as it is called was set up under the National Agriculture Development Scheme with an investment of about Rs 20 crore in 2011 and is supposed to improve Jaggery making process, infuse science in the practices, training of farmers, bring about cost effectiveness, preservation and packing improvements, minimizing chemical residue levels in the end product and further value addition to increase the farmer income. Besides solid Jaggery the center also makes Jaggery syrup and powder targeting different end users. Same applies to Mandya Jaggery Center also and both these units effectively meet the needs of more than 1000 organic cane growers in the state in selling their crops.  

One is really inspired by the achievement of the Mudhol Jaggey unit in creating a brand image for its products and exporting its products to countries like Russia within a short span of its launch. This jaggery according to the authorities there does not use unnecessary chemicals while manufacturing with only calcium carbonate, edible oil and wild okra going into its process. The Jaggery Park intends to promote setting up more such units as the entrepreneur can get a clean margin of Rs 900 per ton. According to the scientific team that is spearheading this mew initiative to promote jaggery, with an investment of Rs 1 crore a production unit to manufacture 40 tons of high quality organic jaggery, can be set up operated with the training provided by them. Probably more research is needed at food technology research institutions to diversify the use of jaggery in many products where sugar is extensively used at present. 


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