COVID-19 lockdown: Odisha’s mahua flower collectors left in lurch

The state’s tribal economy intrinsically runs on mahua flower trade in summers

By Ashis Senapati
Published: Wednesday 08 April 2020
Mahua tree. Source: Wikipedia

Trading in mahua flowers (Madhuca longifolia) in summers is one of the major sources of livelihood of tribal people in Odisha. However, the lockdown imposed in the wake of the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic has hurt the trade and disrupted tribal economy.

With markets shut, flower collectors are left in the lurch.

“We are struggling during the peak season of collection. The lockdown has hit us badly,” said Jamuna Munda, a tribal woman in Maurbhanja district.

The more lasting impact of the lockdown is likely to come with poor sales.  Usually, by this time, traders start purchasing mahua flowers. With the lockdown, however, finding buyers as well as transporting flowers has become a challenge.

Among the major collection centres in the state include Baripada, Betanoti and Karanjia in Mayurbhanj district and towns in the tribal-dominated districts of Korapur, Kalahandi, Balangir, Dhenkanal, Kandhamal, Malkangiri, Sambalpur, Rayagada and Sundargarh.

“We have our early collection of mahua flowers ready, but there are no buyers,” said Sarbeswar Mohant, another flower collector.

Usually, mahua flower collectors receive an advance payment from traders. However, traders are now receiving a fraction of orders and the debts are piling up.

The tribal economy intrinsically runs on mahua flower trade. Flower traders complained of lack of supplies, even when they paid flower collectors in advance.

“It is not possible for us to collect the flowers from forests. Many villagers barricaded the entry points of their villages,” said Malati Murmu, a flower collector from Mayurbhanj district.

The minor forest produce (MFP) trade in summer helps tribals add to their modest supplemental income. Some families also store a good quantity of produce for personal consumption through the year.

Mahua, in general, is synonymous with an alcoholic beverage popular in the state. But the tribals also prepare cakes, jams and other food items from the flowers after drying it.

Villagers sometimes use the flower to prepare alcohol, mostly for self-consumption by simple distillation, said Das Adhikari, manager of Tribal Development Cooperative Corporation (TDCC), an apex cooperative body under ST and SC development department of Odisha government.

Each year, Odisha tribals collect around 20-25,000 quintals of mahua flowers. “We fixed Rs 17 per kilogram as the minimum support price for mahua flowers and directed traders to purchase flowers from tribals. We hope after the lockdown period ends, everything will be normal again,” said Adhikari.

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