Tamarind, a vital cog in Chhattisgarh’s rural economy

As tamarind is an important minor forest product, there is a minimum support price of Rs 36 per kg for seeds. It guarantees a fair price to the tribal gatherers for their work., writes Deepanwita Gita Niyogi

On a hot afternoon in Metapal village in Dantewada district, petty trader Ranat Kumar was busy buying tamarind from tribal collectors and storing it in sacks. It was the day of the weekly market, locally known as haat bazaar in Metapal, a predominantly tribal village in southern Chhattisgarh. In the middle of his transaction with a tribal collector, Kumar informed that the tamarind fetched Rs 30 per kg while weighing the product on a scale.

During the period of collection and sale of minor forest products, traders like Kumar visit villages or flock to rural markets. Tamarind provides tribal families with a viable livelihood option in the state. “It is a busy day for me and my business keeps me busy during the tamarind collection season which starts from mid-March and continues almost until April-May,” Kumar said.

In the middle of the conversation, Ungo Veko, a tribal man from the nearby village of Mandoli, approached Kumar with tamarind. Much of the tamarind collected in Dantewada eventually reaches the main market in Jagdalpur, the district seat of Bastar, about an hour’s drive away.

A bit away from Kumar, another trader, Sukhdev Sinha, said the produce is also sold in Geedam block of Dantewada district, while some quantity is kept in cold storage for future use. He added that a lot of effort goes into collecting, drying and extracting the seeds.

Tamarind produced in Chhattisgarh is in high demand in southern states like Andhra Pradesh, where seeded tamarind is sold at Rs 80 per kg. Kumar, however, admitted to keeping a minimal profit margin. “Traders like me are making profits in the range of Re 1 to Rs 2 per kg of tamarind we buy from collectors, even though prices are high in the south. We also don’t have time to extract the seeds.

Self-help groups enlisted

In the Katekalyan neighborhood of Dantewada, a 10-member women’s self-help group called Ramkrishna Susahayta Samuh buys tamarind from tribal pickers. Before the formation of the group, its members were mainly engaged in agricultural activities. But the women have made a valuable contribution during the Covid-19 period by visiting tribal homes and offering money to collectors to buy tamarind. In about 15 days in March this year, the group procured tamarind worth Rs 17 lakh.

As tamarind is an important minor forest product, there is a minimum support price or MSP which stands at Rs 36 per kg for seeds. MSP assures a fair price to the tribal gatherers for their work.

Shakuntala Thakur, who leads the self-help group in Katekalyan, said it was formed in 2014. “But our activities picked up during the pandemic when we approached tribal women directly with money which helped them. during the hard times,” she added, pointing to bags of tamarind neatly stacked in a corner of her home. Women’s self-help groups have been set up to weed out petty traders who often offer less than the MSP.

Lalit Manjhi, a Dantewada range ranger, said the money for the purchase of tamarind was given by the forest department. Manjhi and other field staff have been on strike since March 21. However, this did not affect fundraising as the money was given to self-help groups before the strike began. He also admitted that small traders like Kumar often prove to be a problem and women’s groups have to compete with them.

Because tamarind trees are huge, pickers often shake the lower branches with wooden planks to make sure the fruit falls to the ground. After that, the ground is cleared of dead leaves and the harvested tamarind is kept in baskets. Later, it is sold in rural markets or collected door-to-door by women’s self-help groups. In Dantewada, there are 88 such groups to collect.

Dantewada Divisional Forestry Officer Sundeep Balaga said collection of minor forest products has been going on for two years intensively through women’s groups. “The penetration of self-help groups has accelerated since Covid-19. But this year, the collection as such was not affected by the staff strike, even if the transport was a little affected in a few places.

In Dantewada, the tamarind collection target this year stands at 20,000 quintals and the collection at the time of filing the story stood at 4,935 quintals.

Role of minor forest products

In the tribal villages of Chhattisgarh, rural communities depend on the collection and sale of small forest products for their livelihood throughout the year. These include Tendu leaves, Sal seeds, tamarind, and mahua flowers, among many others. The collection and sale of minor forest products is part of the Centre’s Van Dhan program which aims to improve tribal incomes. TRIFED is spearheading the implementation of Van Dhan across India.

As for Chhattisgarh, there are about 18 minor forest products traded. To give a boost to all minor forest products, a total of 139 primary processing centers have been identified in the state. In 2020, amid the lockdown, around 51,000 quintals of tamarind were procured worth Rs 15.80 crore. Women’s self-help groups played a central role.

Outside Dantewada in Gariyaband district, 95 km from Raipur, tamarind production exceeded 2,500 quintals, Divisional Forest Officer Mayank Agrawal said. The last collection date was April 15.

About Keneth T. Graves

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