Surunoni Kunar is the richest woman in Khandijharan village under Paikmal block as she owns 21 Mahua trees. Last year she had collected about two quintals of flowers and this year too, she expects to earn good money. However, changing climatic conditions seem to have taken a toll on the flower collection.
Mahua trees have large branches with triple leaves and small pebble like off-white flowers normally fall to the ground and are not plucked from the trees as such. This time the trees are yet to shed flowers. Surunoni uses a long stick to pluck the flowers as a result of which, they get damaged and would not find buyers.
Mahua flowers are considered a boon by the poor tribals in western Odisha, mostly forest dwellers, who have to earn their livelihood basically from minor forest produce. Most of them depend on this for sustaining themselves for around six to seven months in a year. And the period between March and May is the peak season for collecting Mahua flowers, a non-timber forest produce.
The flowers are the raw material used for making country spirit, which is a big source of revenue for the State Government.
In the wake of inclement weather over the last couple of months, flowers from the trees are not falling off naturally. Even in many places, new leaves are yet to blossom and this has raised livelihood concerns of the forest-dwellers.
Pointing out to the red ants which have invaded the plants, Surunoni said these ants are seen only after harvesting of flower. This year, the ants have already dominated the trees, indicating less flowering.
Environmentalists said climate change has taken the toll on the harvesting of Mahua flowers. With the day temperature rising and morning and nights being cold, the flowers are not blossoming.
However, anticipating that there will be a shortfall in Mahua flower collection, mahajans (middlemen) and traders are already out in villages offering advances to those who own trees and poor peasants who collect flowers.