Come April the forests of Odisha are buzzing with activity; it is the time of the year when the Tendu or Kendu leaves, India’s most lucrative forest produce, are ready to be plucked. This year however, the mood in Karadapal village is sombre as leaf pickers are still straddled with last year’s stock.
Community Correspondent Mamata Patra reports from the ground.
Tendu leaves are a nationalised product. Farmers take the leaves to the Kendu leaf division of the Forest Department which then further sells them to traders. While the Forest Department makes a massive profit each year, the leaf pickers who spend twelve hours a day picking, sorting, drying and packing up the leaves get about a fraction of it. In India, for approximately 1,100 Crores earned by the sale of Kendu on the market, barely 40-50% goes to the ones doing the heavy lifting.
The Forest Rights Act of 2006 gives forest dwelling communities explicit rights of produce like Kendu and Timber. The response of governments across different states has been unwelcoming of this change. In Odisha the plan to deregulate was announced in 2013 at the very last minute before the season began and the farmers were left with little time to prepare to woo traders. (http://www.downtoearth.org.in/content/odisha-village-takes-tendu-trade-finds-no-buyers)
The 70 families of Karadapal village, followed this procedure for years until last year when the government refused to buy off this produce from them and didn’t provide them with alternate avenues to sell it. Now between them they have close to 200 quintals (20,000 kg) worth of leaves. On the market, assuming they got a fair price, the farmers would have earned something to the tune of INR 4-4.5 lakhs.
“The money we get by selling these kendu leaves goes towards the education of our children, to buy new clothes, meet medical expenses and other such basic costs,” says Shambhu Biswal one of the farmers.
With the new season upon them the farmers are now eager to sell their previous batches of kendu leaves. You can help them do this.
Call to Action: Please call Indrajeet Pradhan, the Ranger of the Forest Department, Kendu Leaf Division on 09778475377 and ask him to take steps to help farmers realise their rights to livelihood.