Climate change is playing spoilsport in kendu leaf collection across eastern India; here’s how

Rains, instead of heat and dust storms during April and May, have led to a proliferation of flies which are bothering collectors
Labourers collecting tendu leaves in the forests of Odisha, West Bengal and Ghatshila in Jharkhand are wearing mosquito nets while doing their work. Photo: Mohammad Parvez and Anup Sao
Labourers collecting tendu leaves in the forests of Odisha, West Bengal and Ghatshila in Jharkhand are wearing mosquito nets while doing their work. Photo: Mohammad Parvez and Anup Sao

Climate change is playing spoilsport in three states of eastern India where kendu (as tendu is called in the region) leaf collection season is at its peak. Those collecting leaves from forests are being bothered by small black flies, which have proliferated across the area due to unusual climatic conditions.

The insects are so bothersome that collectors are doing their work wearing mosquito nets on their faces. But even this is not making their activity any easier.

Black flies bothering kendu collectors (who also collect mahua and sal leaves) is not new. But this time, their proliferation is due to climate change.

Instances of flies bothering collectors in huge numbers have been reported by Ghatshila in Jharkhand’s East Singhbhum district as well as forests in neighbouring Odisha and West Bengal.

Several residents of the Baguria Gram Panchayat in East Singhbhum told Down To Earth (DTE) they were compelled to tie mosquito nets on their faces else the insects would enter their mouths, noses and eyes.

The area usually witnesses searing heat and dust storms in April and early May. But this time, there was heavy rain in these areas. Consequently, a lot of moisture was present in the air.

This condition is ideal for the breeding of these small black flies. The insects have thus bred and multiplied and are now bothering collectors.

Photo: Mohammad Parvez and Anup Sao

Vinod Kumar, a scientist at the local branch of the Birsa Agricultural University's research centre in Darisai, East Singhbhum district, told DTE that the length of the small black fly is less than one millimetre.

Kumar said while attributing climate change as a reason for the flies’ proliferation would not be entirely correct, rapid change in weather conditions from dry to wet was definitely a cause. The Darisai centre is

There are two ways to prevent the insects from multiplying further, according to Kumar.

One option is to sprinkle pesticides. But this will not be easy for people living in this area. A better choice will be to eliminate conditions favourable for the flies’ reproduction.

The local health centre said the flies could rapidly spread disease across the region. However, others say the situation will return to normal now given the intense heat and dust storms that are now prevailing in the area.

Meanwhile, local villagers have said the insects’ proliferation is a sign of impending drought.

According to some estimates, more than 20,000 people residing in 100 villages are suffering due to the plague of flies. However, locals said the number of villages affected could be as high as 1,500.

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