Fairly traded turmeric

If you’re a fan of Pukka, you may have noticed that we love turmeric. We use turmeric in many or our teas and supplements, including our range of turmeric capsules and our award-winning tea, Turmeric Gold. Much has been written about the benefits of this amazing yellow rhizome, but what’s the story behind it and where does it all come from?

As part of Pukka’s herb sourcing team, I am fortunate to have the opportunity to visit many of the farmers who grow our herbs. This includes visiting our organic turmeric growers in Kerala and Karnataka on the south-west coast of India.

Home to more than one billion curry-eating people, India is a country that has grown a lot of turmeric for a very long time. As a result, there are many varieties that are well adapted to the local conditions and, compared to many crops, have relatively few pests and diseases. Any problems that do occur on the projects we work with are easily dealt with using organic methods (such as a natural insecticidal spray made from neem leaves) that have been tried and tested over thousands of years.

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.

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Mr Jayen harvesting turmeric in Kerala.

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.

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.

Take Gannapati, for example, who has been growing turmeric and other herbs for us for many years now. He lives next door to Hosagunda farm and is a good example of how one inspiring organic farm can create ripple effects in the community. Our local partner, the extraordinary Mr Shastry, helped him invest in digging a bore well so that he can irrigate his crops. He has also included him in the group organic certification programme and provides him with a guaranteed market for his organic turmeric.

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Gannapati with freshly harvested turmeric at Hosagunda farm.

This kind of thing does not go unnoticed in a small community, and with more farmers coming forward to join the organic programme the ripples continue to spread. With Mr Shastry’s help, the group is now in the process of becoming Fair For Life certified, which will ensure the benefits are equally distributed and closely monitored as the project grows.

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About a month before harvest the farmer stops irrigation, which causes the leaves to dry and all the plants energy goes into its rhizomes.

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.

Back in the UK, 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.

In our range of turmeric capsules, we use a highly concentrated form of turmeric known as a wholistic extract, which is produced through a combination of hydro-ethanolic and CO2 extraction mixed with the pure powdered herb. By starting this process with the highest quality raw material, we can ensure that the finished product contains some of the most potent turmeric that exists.

And that’s just the beginning of the story. You can see why we love turmeric so much at Pukka!

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