SAMBALPUR: Poor forest dwellers, mostly tribals, are facing a tough time with the shrinking green canopy and distress sale of Mahua flower has only hit them hard.
In non-irrigated areas, people fall back on the forest produce for about six months in a year for sustenance. They engage in collection of non-timber forest produce (NTFP) which includes Mahua and sell them in the market to add to their family income. While the menfolk go out to work, it is mostly women who collect the NTFP.
But with prices of Mahua flowers getting reduced by almost half this year, the toil they put in to collect NTFP is not being compensated. Price of Mahua flower is fixed by the panchayat and usually it will be a little higher than the previous year’s price.
While in Bamra, Kuchinda and Paikmal, the price fixed varies from Rs 12 to Rs 15, it is sold at much less in weekly haats. Here, they sell it for as little as Rs 5 a kg while the damaged flowers are priced at Rs 2 a kg. Villagers said though initially Rs 7 per kg was offered, it reduced gradually.
The economics of Mahua flower is unique. While it fetches the much-needed income for the poor tribals, the government earns a huge sum of revenue from the brewed spirit that is prepared from the flowers. While the brew is priced at Rs 50 a litre, the cost of a kg of Mahua flower is only Rs 5.
Villagers, mostly women and children, toil the whole day to collect Mahua flowers, dry them and sell it to the mahajans (middle men). Most of the villagers are ignorant of the support price and often barter Mahua flower for salt and rice.
Normally, a committee is constituted at block level to fix the price of NTFP. The rate fixed is then intimated to the panchayats for information to the poor collectors. But with the information failing to reach the collectors, it is the middlemen who end up earning the maximum leaving the poor collectors in the lurch.
To add to their woes, there are no storage facilities and huts of the collectors are too small to stock the flowers. In the absence of knowledge about the prices fixed for the NTFP, they are forced to dispose of them at whatever price the middlemen offer.