Tribal communities in Odisha left to fend for themselves during pandemic and cyclone

Since the lockdown came in to effect, experts have repeatedly pointed out the need for a COVID-19 response team for tribal districts to ensure the protection of livelihood of the tribal communities. 

Published: 22nd May 2020 11:57 AM  |   Last Updated: 22nd May 2020 11:57 AM   |  A+A-

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Residents inspect their damaged house after a tree fell on it during Cyclone Amphan in Burdwan district. (Photo | PTI)

Express News Service

AMPHAN: Sania Singh, 27, was struggling with the sale of minor forest produce (MFP) during the lockdown triggered by the COVID-19 pandemic. When Amphan hit Odisha on Wednesday, the hopes he had of procuring an income from the sale of the MFP items sank.    

“Sal is very crucial for our livelihood. We could not sell what we had already collected and could not procure anything further because of the lockdown. We suffered huge losses. Now due to Amphan, more produce have been wasted.  We are now wondering how we will survive,” said Mansingh who belongs to the Kondh tribe from Odisha’s Mayurbhanj district.

According to the MoTA (Ministry of Tribal Affairs), tribal people derive 20-40 per cent of their annual income from MFP.

MFP includes wild honey, tamarind, sal leaves, sal seed, mahua seeds, among others.

Since the lockdown came in to effect, experts have repeatedly pointed out the need for a COVID-19 response team for tribal districts to ensure the protection of livelihood of the tribal communities. 

According to a 2011 Census, 40.6 per cent ST population lived below poverty line in the country as against 20.5 per cent of the non-tribal population in the country. 

“We have no hopes from the government. The government’s delayed response to our woes have no meaning for us. We are a community dependent on nature,” he said.    

“The unseasonal rains and cyclone have dismantled the forest-based livelihood and MFP trade of the Adivasi and other forest dwelling communities of Odisha. Ever year, there has been MFP crop loss because of cyclones. Yet, there has been no adequate steps taken by the authorities,” said Archana Soreng, research officer, Vasundhara, an Odisha-based non-profit organisation.   

There is an urgent need for the government to ensure livelihood security of the communities, she added. 

The peak season for generating the income through MFP is between April to June.

“The Amphan cyclone has destroyed mahua flowers majorly. Mahua is a major source of livelihood for us during the season. The government should adequately compensate people who are losing their source of livelihood,” said Fatik Kumar Hembram who belongs to Santhal tribe and is associated with the Paschim Banga Kheria Sabar Kalyan Samity.           

Jaladhar from the Sabar community in Purulia in West Bengal said sales were almost ‘nil’ since the lockdown came in to effect.

“There are no wedding ceremonies being held for which there is usually procurement of sal leaves. We have lost whatever produce we had procured due to the heavy rainfall. It will impact our livelihood significantly,” said Jaladhar. 

Soumitro Ghosh from the All India Forum of Forest Movements pointed out natural disasters of the magnitude of Amphan impedes the forest dwelling communities’ access to forests which in turn directly impacts their livelihoods.

“They are directly dependent on nature for sustenance. For example, honey collectors would not be able to go out to the forest when a calamity like this hits. The cyclones also leave the fields and houses damaged,” said Ghosh.      

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