Silence grips forest

Down To Earth|May 01, 2020

Silence grips forest
Communities and traders fail to earn from non-timber forest produce despite exemption from lockdown rules ISHAN KUKRETI NEW DELHI
ISHAN KUKRETI

A CROSS THE central India, mahua trees are in full bloom. Revered as the “tree of life” by tribal communities, their flowers signal the start of a four-month season when forests generate the much-needed cash for the country’s 300 million people, living at the bottom of the socioeconomic ladder, and a hectic schedule for traders, processors and exporters. Lucrative produce like tendu leaves, sal seeds, bamboo, and lac, become available only during this period, and get the country’s Ì€ 20,500 crore-year forest-based economy going. “But this time the market is completely stagnant,” says Mayank Agarwal of Shree Vinayak Enterprises, a lac processor and exporter in Purulia district of West Bengal. Purulia is a major lac manufacturing and exporting hub in the country. On April 16, soon after extending the 21-day lockdown to 40 days to contain the spread of coronavirus, the Centre exempted collection and trading of lac and other nontimber forest produce (NTFP) from the rules. “It has been 10 days since the announcement. Yet I have not received any fresh raw material,” says Rakesh Gupta of Ganesh Lac Udyag in Kolkata that primarily caters to the domestic market. “This is because policies take time to translate into action in an unorganized industry like lac,” he adds. Agarwal, however, says he is not in a position to buy fresh lac even if they arrive. “I have not been able to sell my stocks as most of my clients are in countries like the US, China, and Spain that are badly hit by the pandemic,” says Agarwal.

NTFPs like lac are in high demand from pharmaceutical and cosmetic sectors, among others, and a substantial share of the commodities are exported. In 2018-19, India exported ₹473.9 crore worth of lac, as per the Ministry of Commerce and Industry. However, all international trade has come to a grinding halt since February when the pandemic spread in multiple countries.

The other such commodity is tree-oil extracted from seeds of mahua and several other NTFPs. Cosmetics and confectionary industries are the biggest consumers of the oils. “Tree-oil exports have reduced by 40 per cent and we are not sure when this market will reopen. We are now surviving on the domestic market which is also shrinking fast,” says Swapnil Patil of Raipur-based Manorama Industries that manufactures and supplies exotic and specialty fats and oils.

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May 01, 2020