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Karbi ginger farmers take to tapioca

Jorhat, July 31: Nearly 7,000 ginger farmers in Karbi Anglong district have taken up commercial cultivation of tapioca, considered the poor man’s potato.

The farmers, who have formed an organisation called Ginfed, hope to tap into the commercial value of the crop after it is processed into flour, starch, semolina and saboodana.

Jiten Sarang Fangsa, marketing manager, Ginfed, told The Telegraph over phone from Diphu, the district headquarters, that though Karbi Anglong was the highest producer of tapioca known locally as himolu alu in the region, the crop was usually consumed locally after boiling it.

“The Assam Agricultural University showed us the commercial viability of the crop. Some of us tried it out last year and after being able to sell the flour in various expos and melas at about Rs 50-60 per kg, many more have taken to the crop this season,” Fangsa said, adding that he had also cultivated about 100 plants.

Fangsa said while the flour was instantly sold out in neighbouring Nagaland but in Assam, “people were not aware of its value and were not so keen to buy it”.

Tapioca flour has to be added to wheat flour in a 50:50 ratio so that chapattis, cakes, biscuits and other items can be made. Compared to rice and wheat, tapioca (dry) has less fat (0.3 per cent) than rice (milled) (0.6) and whole wheat (2.7). It also has more carbohydrate (82.6 per cent) than rice (78.2) and wheat (69.4). However, the protein content in tapioca (dry) is less (1.3 per cent) compared to rice (6.8) and whole wheat (12.1).

Regarding the high cost of the flour compared to wheat, Priyanka Das, scientist, biochemistry department of Assam Agricultural University, said in the south of the country, tapioca flour sold for Rs 30 per kg but here most likely the raw material was procured at a high price owing to which the price became high.

Das said tapioca was an indigenous tuber crop, which could be grown at a very low cost.

“Apart from its value as a processed food like flour or semolina, we want the farmers to benefit from extraction of the starch from the plant as India is still very dependent on import of tonnes of starch from neighbouring Thailand and Indonesia. Tapioca has the largest amount of pure starch, more than any other crop, including rice or potato and is of much value in the textile, paper and food industries,” she said.

The AAU has provided an electric dryer and other equipment for processing whereas the army under its Sadbhavana project has provided equipment worth about Rs 9 lakh, which includes grinders, peelers, drying trays, water pump and tanks, among others. The state agriculture department has also provided three dryers, of which one uses LPG and two machines use wood.

The 7,009 farmers under Ginfed had till now grown ginger, turmeric and bhut jolokia but have decided that they will try out tapioca, on a small scale initially and if found profitable, go in for larger production.

S. Sandhan, deputy director (hills), state agriculture department, Karbi Anglong, said the greatest problem in the district was the extremism problem apart from the high transportation cost and almost no equipment to process the produce at a low cost.

In India, Assam stands sixth in tapioca production and Kokrajhar is another place in the state where tapioca is produced in a large scale.