Mahua mantra

Jharkhand villagers develop an emotional bond with Mahua trees, finding a source of income in the process, finds Mukesh Ranjan

Published: 25th September 2022 08:42 AM  |   Last Updated: 25th September 2022 08:48 AM   |  A+A-

Mahua trees provide livelihood to over 5,000 people living in half-a-dozen villages in the Tundi block of Dhanbad | Express

JHARKHAND: For decades, the Tundi block in Dhanbad was a notorious Maoist area. Of late, the local residents have decided to be arbiters of their own destiny. The ‘weapon’ the people have chosen is the green belt that has come up across 100 hectares with a dense foliage of Mahua (honey tree). It is the livelihood resource for over 5,000 people living in half-a-dozen villages.

Ask Santu Lal Kisku why he wears a broad smile, and he’d tell you how he has been able to raise his income by up to Rs 30,000 a year by selling mahua fruits and cakes. The villagers started a new journey about 17 years ago, thanks to the initiative of then-divisional forest officer Sanjeev Kumar, who exhorted villagers to tie rakhi on mahua trees and take a pledge that they would protect them.

Today, the green swathe of trees has made the villagers self-reliant, as they don’t have to go to towns for work or engage in petty crime. Jharkhand forests are rich in mahua trees. Besides the tree’s medicinal values, its fruit is also widely used for making laddoos, cakes, pickles, jelly and various other products.

Kumar’s initiative has not only led to the protection of the forests but has also brought multiple livelihood opportunities for people. More mahua trees mean more fruits and more money. Kisku says people’s living standard has changed for the better. “Besides selling the fruits at a good market price, villagers are also using its flower (kochra) as a vegetable; they also extract oil from it and sell the cake which they get while extracting oil. Mahua cake is rich in medicinal value. Villagers also use it as a mosquito and snake repellant,” says Kisku, who is also the deputy mukhiya of Tundi gram panchayat.

Villagers worship the trees and tie a piece
of red cloth to them as rakhi | Express

Most households pick up to 5 quintals of mahua in one season, which is good enough to fetch a neat sum, says Kisku. Another villager Rahul Mahto says he is earning up to `20,000 a year from these trees. “Most of us do not depend on daily wage work. Instead, we focus on protecting the trees,” says Mahto.

Earlier, villagers worked as daily wagers in Dhanbad, about 35 km from their place. Forest ranger Binod Thakur says villagers worship the trees and tie a piece of red cloth to them as rakhi which creates a bond between the two. It means villagers won’t chop the trees.

“The seeds of this change were sown by Sanjeev Kumar. It is good to see his efforts bear fruit,” says Thakur.“I started the initiative in Lukaiya jungles under Tundi block in 2005, covering 35 villages. This was extended to nearly 400 villages in the next five years,” says Kumar, who is now posted as additional principal chief conservator of forest.

When he was posted to Jamshedpur, he covered the entire forest under the initiative, then to Chaibasa, Hazaribagh, Chatra, Koderma and other areas.  Kumar says he has done several studies on the protection of forests and found that many communities worship trees on different occasions. That gave him an idea to start raksha bandhan of trees in order to develop a bond between them and the villagers. “To my surprise, this actually worked beyond my expectations,” he said. People have now also started planting Arjun and Asan trees and given the same reverence to them. These trees help in lac cultivation and sericulture.

HOW THE TREES ARE BEARING ‘FRUIT’
The swathe of Mahua trees has made people self-reliant, as they don’t have to go to towns for jobs or take to petty crime. These trees have medicinal value, and its fruit is used in making laddoos, pickles, cakes, jelly, etc. They also extract oil from Its flower and sell the cake they get while extracting oil.



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