Similipal forest fire a jolt to livelihood of lac collectors

As many as 2,000 tribals, mostly women and who made craft items from lac, have been stripped of livelihoods

By Ashis Senapati
Published: Monday 22 March 2021
Tribal women make crafts item from lac. Their livelihoods have been affected due to the forest fire in Similipal Tiger Reserve. Photo: Ashis Senapati

The wildfire in Odisha’s Similipal Tiger Reserve (STR) and its nearby areas has hit the economy of a large number of tribals who collect lac as well as those who make craft items of it.

The Kolha and Santhal tribals of villages around Similipal in Mayurbhanj district, who collect lac to make craft items, had suffered huge losses due to the countrywide lockdown imposed to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19).

Lac, a minor forest produce, is the resinous secretion of a number of species of lac insects, which mostly infest on Kusum trees. Thousands of lac insects colonise the branches of host trees and secrete the resinous pigment.

Tribals douse fire in Similipal Tiger Reserve. Photo: Ashis Senapati

The coated branches of host trees are cut and harvested as sticklac, which is crushed and sieved to remove impurities. The process of making lac products involves heating, combining, kneading, hammering and shaping through moulds or by hands.

Sima Banara (24), a lac craft person from the tribal-dominated Mandalajhari village, used to collect lac in March to make dolls and other items. But the forest fire has stripped her of her means of livelihood. She is not alone: As many as 2,000 tribal lac craft persons, mostly women, have been sailing in the same boat.

The worst hit are tribals from Jashipur, Karanjia, Thakurmunda, Sukruli and Raruan blocks.

“Millions of lac insects on Kusum trees perished in the forest fire. Several Kusum trees were also destroyed,” said Biswanath Mishra, project manager, Integrated Tribal development Agency, Karanjia.

The fire, besides endangering biodiversity, has also hit the forest-dependent community that earns livelihood through non-timber forest produce.

Items made from lac are eco-friendly. The tribals make bangles, paperweight, photo frames, flower vases, pen stands, jewellery boxes and beautiful toys out of lac.

Mishra added:

“We provide training to craft persons to meet the increasing demand for lac items from urban regions. It is also quite cheap and has a higher durability. But we stopped the training because of the forest fire,” added Mishra.

These items are also redesigned for international buyers. The traditional craft has transcended through generations, said Sukant Behera, secretary, Kishorchandrapur Lac Industrial Cooperative Society, Karanjia.

“I would contribute to my family’s meager earnings by making lac items through our self-help group. I would earn Rs 3,000 a month. But we have been dousing fire in the forest near our village ever since it broke out,” said Sonali Ho of Chirupada village, who is the head of a self-help group in the village.

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