How we grow, source and harvest turmeric
Our organic turmeric is mainly grown in Karnataka and Maharashtra, two neighbouring states in the West of India. Many of our turmeric farmers also grow ginger, and in some regions they grow it as an intercrop with tulsi, sugar cane and kapikacchu, a therapeutic legume that climbs up each sugarcane.
Growing and harvesting turmeric
With a population of over a billion people, many of whom eat turmeric on a daily basis, large-scale turmeric cultivation is a well-established feature of the Indian landscape.
In India alone, approximately 140,000 hectares of land are used for growing turmeric (that’s an area just smaller than the whole of Greater London).
Turmeric is cultivated in a very similar way to its close relative, ginger. Both are perennial plants, but are cultivated as annuals. In other words, although they would survive in the ground for several years, they are sown and harvested every year (a bit like potatoes). They are propagated using ‘seed rhizomes’ that are kept aside for re-planting during each harvest.
Freshly harvested turmeric is always ‘cured’ before being dried and polished. ‘Curing’ is done by boiling the fresh rhizomes for about 45 minutes; this helps gelatinize the starch for a more uniform drying, reduce the microbial load, and remove the fresh earthy aroma. Once cured the rhizomes are dried, and then ‘polished’ in a polishing drum to remove the rough surfaces.
Fairly traded turmeric
Every farmer has an opportunity to vote on how the Fair Trade fund is spent. For us it is always fascinating to find out how the community wants to spend the money. It varies enormously from region to region, and can provide valuable insight into the needs and mindset of the community.
For the turmeric farmers in Kerala, their priority has been to improve their farming practices. Examples include setting up plant nurseries to distribute free seedlings to farmers; providing financial and technical assistance to set up composting facilities; and creating a community radio station to broadcast programmes on organic farming, health education and other community activities. This support helps strengthen their livelihoods, which in turn helps them in many other areas of their lives.
The turmeric farmers in Kerala are part of a certified fair trade project. This means that they are guaranteed a fair price, and for every kilogram sold, we donate an additional amount to a community fund, known as the Fair trade fund, which is used specifically for social development.
Further north in the state of Karnataka we buy turmeric from a group of organic farmers near Sagar in the Western Ghats. They are not certified to a fair scheme, but that does not mean that it is not traded fairly. In fact, in many ways this project has provided just as many social benefits, if not more, than regular fair trade projects.
Farming organic turmeric
Trading fairly is not our only priority. It is equally as important to work with local partners who are experts in organic farming practices.
Through their network of trained field officers, the farmers are provided with ongoing support and guidance to maximise yields and quality, and to ensure they responsibly manage the soil and environment through sustainable farming practices.
Pukka’s Quality team test every batch of turmeric for curcuminoids and essential oils like turmerone (the main compounds responsible for its therapeutic properties).
Having a close relationship with the supplier means that we can trace this data back to their farm records. This makes it possible to observe trends - over time we can improve our understanding of how different regions, varieties and cultivation practices affect the quality of the turmeric.
In short, close relationships with growers leads to higher quality herbs.