Jaggery Labourer's, India
Text & Photography ©Nayan Sthankiya
India’s sugar plantations are scattered about the country, some plantations are owned by mills and cover large tracts of land, whereas others may be small, irregularly shaped fields tended by a farmer and his family. Sugar cane plantations are mainly located through- out nine different Indian states, including Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Gujarat, Haryana, Maharashtra, Punjab, Tamil Nadu, Uttar Pradesh, and Uttaranchal. The sugar cane harvesting season usually falls between August and January, but this can vary from region to region, as India is a very large country with two climatic zones, one tropical and one sub tropical, and sugar cane grows differently in each of these zones.
There is an absence of adequately skilled manual labor which is causing problems for Indian sugar mills. India’s sugar industry has boomed in the past few years, and it is becoming difficult for plantations to find enough skilled workers to do the important job of harvesting the cane. Because sugar cane harvest- ing is hard manual labor, and not very well paid, unlike Brazil, it is difficult for many plantations to find workers who can harvest the cane properly. Unwilling or unskilled workers often cut corners, costing the plantation owner or the mill money lost when good sucrose is left in the ground or roots are damaged. Sugar cane roots are important, as they will sprout and grow again. The typical number of regrowths is between three and six. Destroying roots during the first harvest can have a significant yield loss from a single planting.
Jaggery, also known as Gur is a type of sugar very popular in India. It is made by boiling sugar cane juice and then pressing it into blocks. Jaggery can range in both color and solidity, blocks of Jaggery can be light or dark, solid, or crumbly. Because the production of Jaggery is essentially a cottage industry, there are very few standards that must be adhered to in its production. As with most cottage industries in India the key element is generally manual labor. The process is a difficult one which offers little pay and hard work. The workers are generally fed by the employer and there is no shortage of energy inducing sugarcane juice.
Traditional Indian lore states that Jaggery is good for a wide range of health conditions, particularly those relating to the throat or lungs. There may be something in these stories, as research has shown that Jaggery can aid in the treatment of silicosis, a condition which is brought on by the inhalation of silica particles. Jaggery also plays a role in traditional Indian rituals, and even today it is a custom to eat a few pieces of Jaggery before embarking on a new enterprise.