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The Sweeter Tamarind

Tamarind is perhaps the one non timber forest produce that enters every kitchen in India. May people do not even know that its a designated forest produce. In reality too most tamarind trees are on non-forest land. However its designated as a MFP and the MSP for MFP Scheme has included Tamarind in the list of items. While Tamarind has a strong demand across the country especially in South India and abroad, the market is still dominated by informal set-ups that have ensured very low prices to the producers / collectors. This is especially so in remote areas. Kandhamal happens to be one of the most remote districts in Odisha (for instance it has no railway connectivity) and the price of tamarind in the local market has always been extremely low. So much so that a number of trees remain un-harvested. This year the local traders were paying villagers only 5 rupees a kilogram for ripe & dry tamarind. In fact the traders do not even buy tamarind from the people but buy the entire tamarind in a tree based on an ocular estimation. The real price in such a case may be even lower than the Rs 5/- per KG that is the stated price. Once the trader buys the produce on the tree, he employs a local labourer (often, ironically, employing the owner of the tree itself as a poorly paid labourer) to harvest the tree and hand over the produce to him.

It is in such a context that Vasundhara and the alliance of CSOs it had facilitated in Kandhamal organised the MSP for MFP caravan. The caravan went around villages in Phulbani for 10 days, travelling a total of more than 1200 kilometres and touching people from more than 200 villages. Staff of Vasundhara and the other CSOs which were part of the caravan along with TDCC staff, and local volunteers played recorded audio messages in the local language, and held wayside as well as planned meetings at village / panchayat headquarters, local market places, and other places of assembly such as PDS shops etc. They explained the provisions of the schemes and told people how to access the same. The MSP for Tamarind was 22/- rupees per kg[1]. When people learnt about this, they refused to sell their tamarind to the local traders. The MFP collectives facilitated by Vasundhara in the Jamjhari Gram Panchayat of Phulbani block began procuring at at 22/- rupees per KG as the TDCC promised to buy it from them after paying a further commission of 2%. However once they began buying, the local traders panicked and offered them a much higher price than TDCC. Finally the collectives were able to procure 80 quintals of tamarind from 119 households in 12 villages of the Panchayat and sold it at Rs 25.50/- to a district level trader who sells directly in the large Raipur Market. The taste of selling the sour tamarind was indeed sweeter this year.

Often people ask how much can an agency like TDCC buy to ensure that producers are able to get the MSP? The experience in Kandhamal suggests that the very fact of people having an option to sell to TDCC at the MSP improves their bargaining power and enables them to sell at the MSP or even higher.

  • Total Tamarind Sold: 8000 kilograms
  • Potential Income at local price: 40,000 rupees
  • Actual Income to Producers at MSP: Rs 1,76,000
  • Profit earned by Collectives: Rs 28,000/-
  • Profit Distributed to members as Bonus: Rs 14,000/-
  • Profit retained for enhancing working capital of collectives: Rs 14,000/-
  • Total benefit to the community as a result of MSP: Rs 1,64,000/-
  • Average additional income per member selling tamarind: 1340/- rupees

Case 2

No winter evening in Northern India is really complete without a helping of Gajar ka Halwa. And its impossible to imagine good Gajar ka Halwa (or for that matter many other north Indian sweets and kheer) without the mandatory Chironjee kernels. Good quality Chironjee kernels are usually available for more than 1400 rupees per kilogram. But the tribal and other forest depending communities who collect the seeds have to sell the seeds at prices as low as 40/- rupees per kg. This is roughly the equivalent of getting paid Rs 120/- for a kilogram of Chironjee kernels that sell for about 1400/- rupees less than 9% of the market price. Such low prices have been maintained over the years through ensuring lack of competition at the local level and lack of processing facilities with the people.

The declaration of MSP for Chironjee at Rs 100/- per kilogram was therefore a major advantage for the people collecting Chironjee nuts. Mere declaration of MSP, however, is no guarantee of actual change in the lives of the people. So even after almost two years of the MSP being declared, tribal women in Sundargarh district of Odisha were continuing to get cheated. But when CIRTD, a CSO working with tribal people in Sundargarh was contacted by Vasundhara to become part of the MSP Caravan, they picked up Chironjee as the principal focal point of their caravan. But as people came to know about the MSP and collected Chironjee seed for handing over to TDCC, they were told that they cant do so as they do not have a local PPA (Primary Procuring Agency registered with TDCC). As TDCC initially refused to collect, the villagers went to the District Collector and petitioned him. As a result of the petition a PPA was formed within 15 days and the TDCC finally lifted 7.8 quintals of Chironjee seed. What would have fetched the collectors about 31,200 rupees in the local market ultimately earned them 78,000 rupees - an incremental benefit of 46,800/- rupees ( a hefty 150% more than what theyd have got otherwise).

While the TDCC ultimately bought only a very small part of the total Chironjee seeds sold in the region, because of this intervention local price of Chironjee seeds went up to more than 60 to 70 rupees per kilogram. With this one example of success this year, the other villages are also getting ready to assert their right to MSP and in the coming season (May-June 2017) the total benefit to people in the region from the MSP provision for Chironjee is likely to increase manifold. (Unfortunately, however, the MSP for Chironjee seed has been reduced for the coming season to Rs 60/- per KG. The people of Sundargarh as well as Chironjee collecting forest dependent communities across Odisha are already raising their voice against the decision)


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