Ms. Trinity Saioo of Jaintia Hills Meghalaya was conferred the Padma Shri by the President of India Ram Nath Kovind at a glittering function in New Delhi on November 9.
A Catholic primary school teacher from the small village of Mulieh, with less than 1,500 people, made a humble spice plant a global phenomenon. Fifty-three-year-old Trinity Saioo from Mawkyndeng parish in Jowai Diocese is the real force behind Meghalaya’s turmeric revolution.
The Indian government conferred on Trinity the Padma Shri, India’s fourth-highest civilian honour, in October last year, for her contribution in promoting the best variety of the Indian spice.
“As a catholic woman, I am a mother, a primary teacher who is also in charge of mid-day meal in the school, I am a farmer as well who help other women through various government projects and schemes to maintain their livelihood,” Trinity told Radio Veritas Asia on her return from New Delhi, the capital city of India.
It is an eighteen-year journey, begun in 2003 from her village, that made the ‘Lakadong Chyrmit’ ( a local variety of turmeric) a sensation and inspired the Government of Meghalaya state to launch a Mission Lakadong, a program that envisions a production target of 50,000 metric tonnes of turmeric per year by 2023.
“I am not satisfied with only initiating the project but followed them up and helped them with one project after the other for livelihood. I have not done this for any award or recognition but for the sole intention of helping the others,” Trinity said.
In 2003, the Spices Board of India announced a subsidy to farmers for growing turmeric.
Trinity gathered her community, especially women farmers, and encouraged them to farm turmeric. “I helped them with filling out the forms and other formalities to initiate the process,” she says. Gradually, she won the support of 700-800 women from the surrounding villages. She also initiated self-help groups that helped women farm better.
“I remember my grandparents being farmers. Even my mother would spend most of her time on the turmeric fields,” says Trinity, a practicing Catholic and the secretary of the Catholic Women Association of the Immaculate Conception Parish, Mawkyndeng.
When she is not teaching, she is either drying, slicing, or grinding turmeric in the field or processing unit.
The turning point came in 2014. The Indian Council of Agricultural Research recognised the variety growing in Lakadong to superior quality due to its high curcumin content. Unlike other varieties of turmeric, Lakadong turmeric powder contains 7 to 12 percent of curcumin, much higher than the 2-3 percent of the active ingredient of different turmeric varieties. The higher content of curcumin in Lakadong Chyrmit from Meghalaya makes it more potent than other products.
By 2015, Saioo had acquired a processing unit and started two cooperative societies with the help of the Kisan Credit Card (KCC) loan. She also started guiding the community on pest management and the use of bio-fertilisers.
“I associated myself with ten self-help groups, and a society that I have formed which is called as " Ïengskhem Spice Cooperative Society” (Ïengskhem means ‘Stand firm’) along with 25 other women many families have benefitted and have achieved sustainability in their livelihood.
Trinity has six children, three boys and three girls. Two of the eldest help her with turmeric production. Of the others, “one is pursuing his Bachelor of Education., the other is doing her Master’s degree, another son is in Class XI and the youngest girl is still in Class VIII,” she says.
“As a responsible catholic mother, I do take care that I don’t miss Mass on Sundays and help my children too to do the same. Whenever I was asked to share my thoughts and reflections on Sunday or at prayer meetings, I never shirk but came forward while praying for the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. I am motivated with the scripture passage, “But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you” (Matthew 6.33) Trinty said.
In 2018, the Meghalaya government launched Mission Lakadong under her leadership.
Trinity says the pandemic has not impacted her work. “As we are in the rural area, the impact of the pandemic has not been much. There has also not been a single COVID positive case reported from my village,” she says.
Despite the lockdown, the society has managed to produce 16 metric tons of Lakadong Turmeric since 2020. Every day, nearly 20 workers get acquainted with the processing at her unit.
“Whenever I hear of any family who encountered problems or know of some misunderstanding between the womenfolk or families, I would not be at peace unless I intervene and help them even my counsels and encouragement,” she told RVA News.
In 2020, Trinity Saioo was awarded the Padma Shri for her contribution to leading the movement.
She was also hailed as an ‘unsung hero’ by Union Minister Piyush Goyal.
“While receiving this award, I am filled with gratitude to God for His continuous presence in my life and for helping me to be of help to the other womenfolk. I simply shed tears after receiving the award to see the hand of the Lord in this and that now people around the globe have recognized my hard work,” she says.
(With some inputs by Sister Euginia Laloo, FMA)