Odisha to procure sal seeds from 9 districts; tribals say it’s too late

Several tribal people, mainly seed collectors, will be deprived of the procurement scheme, as the corporation will not collect from other districts

By Hrusikesh Mohanty
Published: Thursday 01 June 2023
Tribal people in Kandhamal are seen processing sal seeds. Photo: Hrusikesh Mohanty.
Tribal people in Kandhamal are seen processing sal seeds. Photo: Hrusikesh Mohanty. Tribal people in Kandhamal are seen processing sal seeds. Photo: Hrusikesh Mohanty.

The government-owned Tribal Development Co-operative Corporation of Odisha Ltd (TDCCOL) decided to procure sal seeds (Shorea robusta) from nine Odisha districts in late May 2023. The move, which comes after a gap of three years, intends to arrest the distress sale of the minor forest produce (MFP).

However, seed collectors and forest rights activists said the decision was too late. Several tribal people, mainly seed collectors, will be deprived of the procurement scheme.

“The initiative to procure sal seeds from the tribal people at a minimum support price (MSP) of Rs 20 per kg is welcoming. But this will not be enough to check the distress sale of the MFP in the state as the seeds will be procured only from nine districts,” said PK Sahu of Vasundhara Foundation, an organisation that works on forest rights.

Also read: Odisha sal seed pickers face Amphan, COVID-19 double whammy

The seed collectors of the left-out districts will be forced to sell the produce at throwaway prices, he said. Some major districts that are excluded are Deogarh, Koraput, Rayagada, Gajapati, Nayagarh and Mayurbhanj.

The decision comes very late as tribal people in several districts have already sold their seeds to local traders and intermediaries at Rs 10 to Rs 15 per kg against the MSP of Rs 20, said Bhala Chandra Sarangi, a tribal leader.

Poma Tudu, managing director of the TDCCOL, shared the procurement guidelines with its nine branch managers on May 24, 2023. She wrote letters regarding this to the branch managers of Nuapada, Bhawanipatna (Kalahandi), Umarkote (Nabarangpur), Malkangiri, Sundargarh, Keonjhar, Baliguda (Kandhamal), Sambalpur and Lahunipara.

Sal seeds should be procured from the primary collectors through the self-help groups, Primary Procurement Agencies, Van Dhan Vikas Kendras and Odisha Rural Development And Marketing Society (ORMAS), she said.

The branch offices of the TDCC are yet to start to procure the seeds, even after a week of the directive, alleged Sarangi. 

“We have received the information from Kandhamal, Rayagada and Mayurbhanj districts that the tribal people were selling the seeds at Rs 10-Rs 12 per kg,” added Sahu.

Odisha has no major solvent extraction plant that produces oil from sal seeds, due to which the intermediaries procure the seeds from the state at a lower rate and sell them at a higher rate to the oil companies of other states, according to sources.

The district administration has entrusted ORMAS to purchase the seeds from the tribals at a fair price at the beginning of the procurement season, said Ashish Ishwar Patil, the district collector of Kandhamal.

ORMAS has already procured around 150 metric tonnes of sal seeds from the tribals in the district, which would be supplied to a Chhattisgarh-based company, according to sources.

Also read: Chocolate's sal connection

Odisha has a rich depository of sal seeds accounting for 25 per cent of the country’s production, which played a significant role in the economics of the tribal people in the state. Around 40 per cent of the total tribal populations here are engaged in collecting and processing the seeds to eke out a living. Other major sal seeds producing states include Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh and Jharkhand.

Generally, the collection starts in mid-April and is completed before the onset of monsoon. After collecting the raw seeds, they are processed, dried, roasted, winnowed and pounded to separate the husk and the kernel.

“The process is very difficult and involves the the labour of an entire family to produce the quality dry seeds,” said Srimati Mallick of Baliguda in Kandhamal district. 

The MSP of Rs 20 per kg is too meagre, she said. She demanded an increase in the MSP, which was not revised for the last few years. She urged the government to procure the seeds at the Panchayat level by setting up procurement centres to check the distress sale.

Subscribe to Daily Newsletter :

Comments are moderated and will be published only after the site moderator’s approval. Please use a genuine email ID and provide your name. Selected comments may also be used in the ‘Letters’ section of the Down To Earth print edition.