ARIYALUR: Elderly people from rural areas in Ariyalur district collect and sell neem seeds to earn some money in the coronavirus lockdown. Many elderly people in Ariyalur's rural areas were employed as daily wagers and used to take up work under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) to meet their daily needs.
Though a few are still receiving some support from their families, the money earned from selling seeds allows them to buy items like tea and betel nuts and meet minor medical expenses with their own earnings.
Neem seeds are used for oil and oil cakes. It now a common sight in rural areas to see elderly people collecting seeds from under neem trees on the banks of lakes, ponds, and rivers, temples and schools premises. The seeds are sold to scrap shops and oil mills for Rs. 20 to Rs 40 a kg. A Muthaiya (56) from Mudikondan village said, "I have been collecting neem seeds for over 20 days. I was not able to do any work for a long time due to ill health. I have no use for sleeping at home, so I am now collecting and selling seeds. I collect a maximum of 6 to -7 kg of neem seeds daily from 7 am to 1 pm. It helps me to buy vegetables and meet other needs. Sometimes, I sleep in the shade of the tree from where I collected seeds if I feel tired." He said planting neem, Pungan, Iluppai, palm and tamarind saplings not only benefits nature but also gives life to the poor, especially the elderly.
S Pechiyammal from Thirumanur said, "My husband died a few years ago. My daughters are married. I had been doing some work earlier, including under MGNREGA, but opportunities have now dried up. Because of the lockdown, I spent all my savings. I have been collecting seeds for a month and meeting my daily needs. I collect seeds for five to six hours per day, which is enough for me."