Fear of another COVID-19 lockdown spurs distress sale of mahua flowers

Odisha tribals remember financial hit during 2020 pandemic containment measures

By Hrusikesh Mohanty
Published: Wednesday 14 April 2021
A tribal woman collects mahua flowers in Kandhamal district. Photo: Hrusikesh Mohanty

The fresh wave of the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic has spelt distress for the tribal community in Odisha that collects mahua flowers from forests during summers. Apprehending another lockdown, they have resorted to selling the collection at cheaper prices.

Most tribal people, especially women, collect these flowers during summers. The state is home to 62 tribes that constitute more than 22.50 per cent of its population.

The tribals suffered massive losses in 2020, when a country-wide lockdown was imposed to contain the spread of the virus. 

“We sold dry flowers at throwaway price (between Rs 15 and Rs 25) last year. We are now selling fresh and dry flowers at Rs 15 and Rs 25 per kilogram respectively,” said Radhika Dandasena from Baliguda in Kandhamal district. 

Hiramani Mallick, another flower collector, lamented that they have lost buyers. “We are desperate to sell them off as we have no place to keep them,” said Purnabasi Majhi from Gajapati district.

Minimum support price for dry mahua flowers is Rs 17 per kg, said sources.

Most tribal people in Odisha depend on the produce for sustenance for six-seven months a year. The period between March and May is the peak season for collecting Mahua flowers, which is used to make country liquor.

The license holders, recognized by the excise department, procure mahua flowers from tribals and sell it to country-liquor manufacturers.

“They buy flowers from us for Rs 20-25 per kg and sell them off to the manufacturers at Rs 50-60,” said Santosh Das, resident of Baliguda.

The tribals collect around 20,000 quintals of mahua flowers every year.

Major production centres include Kandhamal, Mayurbhanj, Sambalpur, Deogarh, Koraput, Rayagada, Malkanagiri, Gajapati, Kalahandi, Balangir, Dhenkanal and Sundargarh.

“Collecting mahua flowers is one of the major sources of livelihood of tribal people here. So we urge the state government to directly procure the product from the tribals through the Tribal Development Cooperative Corporation (TDCC). The same is practised in states like Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh and Telangana, etc,” said Bhala Chandra Sarangi, a tribal leader.

TDCC is an apex cooperative body under Scheduled Tribe and Scheduled Caste development department of the Odisha government at Ramagiri-Udayagiri.  

TDCC had been procuring mahua flowers from tribals since 1991. But the corporation sustained huge loss as most products would get destroyed easily and eventually stopped procuring the flowers, said Laxmi Narayan Pal, branch manager, TDCC. 

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