(MENAFN- IANS) By Pooja Yadav
Naudhia (Madhya Pradesh), Oct 14 (IANS/ 101Reporters) Ladoos from mahua? Yes, you heard it right. Mahua flowers, used generally for brewing liquor in the Adivasi culture, are now the main ingredient of nutritious ladoos and biscuits that tribal women of Naudhia village in Madhya Pradesh make.
The forest department officials suggested the idea to the women, who were then trained to dish out these delicacies by the Sidhi Samanya Van Mandal, a women's self-help group (SHG) in Naudhia of Sidhi district. The women collect flowers from the forest, clean them and roast them in ghee, before combining them with jaggery, cashew and raisins to make mouth-watering ladoos.
'Mahua flowers have turned the tide in our favour. We sell ladoos and biscuits to Naudhia Van Dhan Kendra run by the forest department for Rs 450 to 500 per kg. Initially, we were just 10 women. Now, around 300 have shown interest, including many from adjoining villages,' Manoj Kumari Singh of Sidhi Samanya Van Mandal told 101Reporters.
As of now, over 25 women are part of the SHG. Once the measures to expand markets and improve product shelf life are in place, more SHGs could enter this space.
This is a welcome shift for many women who have suffered the consequences of alcoholism among men in their households. A large cross-section of tribals brew and sell liquor than the flowers as middlemen fleece villagers by quoting very low prices for the latter. The same cannot be done with liquor as the tribals themselves add value to the flowers by brewing liquor.
'The flowers fetch us only Rs 20 to 25 per kg in village haat (market), although merchants sell it for higher prices. Around 15 to 20 years ago, we earned as little as Rs 4 to 8 per kg. Up until a few years ago, I got only Rs 10 per kg,' said Kalavati Adivasi, a Naudhia resident, explaining their hand-to-mouth existence.
However, things are changing for the better. Kalavati currently earns Rs 20,000 to 25,000 annually from mahua products she makes under the aegis of Sidhi Samanya Van Mandal. Similarly, Rani Singh earns Rs 20,000 annually.
'Ladoos fetch us twice the amount we earned by selling mahua liquor,' admitted Saroj Adivasi, another member of the SHG. 'The day mahua ladoos match the popularity of boondi ladoos in the market, we can hope to earn very well.'
Need for marketing inputs
Naudhia falls under Majhauli forest range. Its ranger in-charge Manish Pandey has been devising ways to improve local livelihood by putting forest produce to best use. The Van Dhan Kendra markets the sweets purchased from women SHGs in cities like Bhopal and Delhi.
'The main problem is products do not last long enough. We need to work on that aspect. After reducing the subsidiary costs, the women get paid about Rs 250 to Rs 300 per kg of ladoos. The price fluctuates because many times the product is sold at a bargained rate due to their limited shelf life,' said Van Dhan Kendra manager Rajeshwar Yadav.
Manoj Kumari Singh identified three aspects, which called for enhanced training. 'We have to learn how to market our products, preserve them for prolonged periods, and package them well. If we can master these techniques, our products will be unbeatable.'
Despite the drawbacks, urban populations are warming up to the unique taste and splendid benefits that these sweets offer. At a two-day seminar organised by the Madhya Pradesh Government in Bhopal last month, mahua products were sold in large quantities. Taking note of the demand, the forest department plans to embark on a marketing campaign to unleash the full potential of the tribal initiative.
An arduous task
'Recipes made out of mahua flower keeps tribals healthy and warm in winters, and boosts immunity. They are roasted and consumed, and also used to make rotis,' explained K.V.S. Parihar, in-charge of the herbal nursery run by Vanopaj Sangh. Owing to its natural sweetness, mahua is widely used in tribal cuisine to make kheer and other delicacies.
Mahua trees grow in the wild, and the collection of flowers from it begins in March-April. It is an arduous task as the flowers start to drop in the night. The tribals need to trudge through deep forests in the early hours, always risking attacks from wild animals, to collect them.
Fresh mahua flowers have high water content, with each flower weighing around 15 to 35 gm. The tribal families spend the entire day collecting them. The sun-dried flowers are later stored properly at home, lest they catch moisture.
Tulsiram Singh, a resident of Jamunapani village in Betul district, told 101Reporters how a good mahua harvest in the last season helped his family earn Rs 65,000. Ashok Kapase of Temni said the four mahua trees on his farm fetched him Rs 25,000 in good climatic conditions.
Though tribals are least aware of their rights over forest produce under the Forest Rights Act, mahua flowers continue to be the mainstay of their existence. As activist Rama Kakodiya put it, 'Mahua blooms spell happiness and well-being for tribals.'
While serving mahua liquor to guests is seen as a sign of respect, addiction to it has been a bane in tribal societies. Of late, anti-liquor campaigns have brought down the demand. Ladoos and biscuits have slowly taken its place.
Explaining the change, Kalavati Adivasi said: 'We never knew ladoos could be made out of mahua; nobody told us either. Right now, we are not earning much. The Covid-19 pandemic was a big setback. If this enterprise succeeds, it will usher in a big change in our lives.'
(The author is a freelance journalist and a member of 101Reporters, a pan-India network of grassroots reporters.)