Odisha’s Wonder Oil Makes These Rural Women Economically Independent

The women of Bijogri village, Odisha are becoming independent after having mastered an age-old art of making a wonder oil from the flowers of Mahua, an Indian tropical tree.

“Now we step out of our homes confidently. This is our achievement.” This statement sums up the spirit of euphoria of the members of Bansidhara Producer Group Of Women, a Self Help Group (SHG) formed in Bijgori village of Odisha to bring indigenous beauty secrets to the world. Around 36 women from Bijgori village have formed the self-help group three years ago. They’ve mastered the ancient art of oil-extraction from flowers of the Mahua tree, an Indian tropical tree found largely in the central and north Indian plains and forests. “We are becoming financially independent,” happily exclaims Brundabati, a member of the group. The oil has many uses from cosmetic to medicinal, for cooking and even as fuel! The flawless, healthy complexions of the indigenous people of the region is a testimony to the properties of this wonder oil.

To watch the women as they go about following the ancient techniques to make the oil is equally fascinating. First, the fresh, fallen Mahua seeds are collected at dawn from under the mahua trees. Then, they are skinned by hand and spread out to dry in the sun. After which they are pounded to a fine powder. The fine powder is then packed into a large vessel over a wood fire and steamed till the oil separates. The oil is further separated by putting the cooled powder into cloth tied by a string so that all the impurities stay behind. The cloth pouches are then tied between two large logs till the purified oil becomes an aromatic, golden oil, ready to use. 

Unlike many forest produce that is seasonal, owing to the evergreen nature of the Mahua tree, the women produce Mahua oil throughout the year. The Mahua flowers and seeds contribute to about 30-40% of the rural economy in states such as Bihar, Madhya Pradesh and Orissa.

Earlier, these women were uninformed of the economic value of the oil in urban markets and were exploited by the small-scale urban traders who acted as the middlemen.They didn’t quote the right price of mahua seeds and used to measure the produce in measurement pots instead of kilogramme while buying the seeds from women. However, after the formation of this group, the women are now aware of Minimum Support Price fixed by the government and hence sell their produce directly through their SHGs. Each of these women earns between Rs 5,000-6,000 per month as a result of this. This income has made them economically independent and they can take care of their families now.

The success story of the Bansidhara Producer Group of Women is now inspiring more women from neighbouring villages to join them.

The video is produced by Video Volunteers with the support of Vikalp Sangam | Article by Sangeeta Rane

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