From banning to branding, the Indian government is now defending mahua alcohol. But Chhattisgarh does not cash in

The Mahua tree is a versatile source of various products ranging from vegetable butter, medicinal extracts, syrups, purees and liqueurs. An integral part of livelihoods in many parts of India, its flowers and seeds are collected from the forests by tribal gatherers. In the second in a series on the One District, One Product initiative, we look at the allied ODOFP program of the Ministry of Food Processing Industries and look at Bijapur, Chhattisgarh’s forest economy.

JThe Agriculture and Processed Foods Export Development Authority shipped a consignment of dehydrated mahua flowers from Korba district of Chhattisgarh to Paris in 2021, showcasing India’s most famous kachi sharab (country liquor) to a global audience for the first time. Earlier this year, Madhya Pradesh declared mahua a heritage liquor, while Maharashtra first amended the Bombay Mahua Flower 1950 rules, making the collection, sale and transport of mahua flowers legal. The Tribal Co-operative Marketing Development Federation, a cooperative run by the Ministry of Tribal Affairs, has partnered with IIT-Delhi to produce Mahua Nutra, a health drink made by mixing unfermented mahua flowers with juices of pomegranate and guava in Jharkhand, and also launched mahua biscuits mixed with millet flour in Madhya Pradesh.

These mark a radical and welcome change in government attitudes and policy towards an indigenous tribal product that was once seen as a “dangerous scourge” that needed to be erased. Government policy on mahua has completely changed now – from an outright ban to a celebration of Indian liquor. In the mysterious ways of the economy, the mahua has grown from a restricted culture to one that is actively promoted by governments across India.

Mahua or walnut oil (Madhuca longifolialisten)) is a tree that grows wild in the rainforests of vast regions of central and southern India. It is used by tribal communities living in the forests to make a variety of products ranging from jams to syrups and medicinal extracts. Mahua is a tangy and potent drink that is usually brewed in small-scale, unorganized garden stills. As a locally produced alcoholic beverage, it contributes little to excise revenue and is often fortified with other dangerous chemicals to give it an extra ‘kick’ – a practice that has resulted in several tragic alcohol-related deaths. of country.


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The misfortunes of Bijapur

Bijapur district in Chhattisgarh is one of India’s leading producers of mahua flowers and seeds. A sparsely populated and densely forested district in the Bastar region, it has a population of less than 2.5 lakh, half of whom are uneducated and 80% are tribal. Poor and backward, Bijapur has over 3 lakh hectares of forest land covering most of the district. In 2020, its forest product gatherers – organized into self-help groups called Van Dhan Vikas Kendras – collected more than 900 tonnes of dried mahua flowers and nearly 500 tonnes of mahua seeds.

Yet, there are no registered MSME food processing enterprises or formal organized entities involved in the production of mahua liquor or value-added mahua products in Bijapur. Almost all of the mahua liquor consumed in the district is brewed for home consumption in local sales. It has everything to do with old state policies and rigid restrictions, combined with once frequent raids on sales by the Excise Department.

The Indian government uses a broad term “Minor Forest Product” to describe a diverse and varied combination of items comprising “non-timber forest products of plant origin”, which resist easy classification. This loose term covers everything from forest wax, honey, bamboo to medicinal plants that are collected (not harvested) by forest communities. Mahua flower and seeds, which are not cultivated but rather picked from the forests of Chhattisgarh, fall into this category and are governed by a plethora of rules and laws.

In Bijapur, huge quantities of mahua are collected by forest collectors and sold at a fixed minimum support price (MSP) of around 30 rupees per kg to the Chhattisgarh State Minority Forest Production Cooperative Federation ( trade and development) with less than 5 percent. cent of the district’s mahua are processed at the source.


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mahua economy

The complexity of the mahua trade is worth noting. The state purchases all produce from tribal gatherers through the Van Dhan Vikas Kendras. It is purchased under a program with an unusually specific and bland name called “Scheme for Marketing Minor Forest Products through Minimum Support Price and Value Chain Development”. He then sells it at auction (in states like Odisha) or to government-run cooperatives. The program and specific amount of MSP is managed and decided by the Ministry of Tribal Affairs, with state forest departments regulating the collection of mahua flowers in the forest and issuing permits. The state Excise Department is also involved in monitoring mahua regulations if it is fermented.

More enterprising districts across India have realized the potential of mahua. Maharashtra, Jharkhand and Odisha have started promoting mahua, both as an alcohol and as a value-added food product. However, stuck in bureaucracy and the apathy of the district administration in establishing processing units, Bijapur has failed to capitalize on its vast mahua production.

Although the mahua was declared a flagship product under the ODOFP program under the PM Formalization of Food Processing Micro-Enterprises (FME) program, the administration’s reluctance to promote a country liquor resulted in low growth. basic infrastructure. It is no wonder that the Director General of Foreign Trade of the Ministry of Commerce decided to contradict MoFPI’s selection of mahua as Bijapur’s flagship product, and selected its pigeon peas, attributing the mahua flower to Nuapada, Odisha in place.

Private actors and NGOs have really worked to brand mahua more than any government intervention. Spirits brands like MahSpirit and DJ Mahua have created mahua blends that are emerging globally as niche liquor brands for discerning audiences. All use mahua from other parts of the country, not from Bijapur.

This lack of clarity from the government on whether to promote alcoholic products or value-added products, whether to focus on the mahua of Bijapur or that of Korba and Nuapada, to regulate and restrict or to liberalize, are all questions strategies that must be addressed before serious action can be taken. Despite having huge potential, if marketed globally as an artisanal liquor, the tribal people of Bijapur have yet to see the benefits of the ODOFP scheme. You can’t walk into a liquor store in Delhi and walk away with a bottle of Bijapur’s finest. He’s not arrived yet.

District Bar Code is a series on the Indian Government’s One District One Product program. Read all articles here.

Adhiraj Parthasarathy is Director of Development Monitoring and Evaluation Office, NITI Aayog, where he works on evaluation of government programs. Views are personal.

(Edited by Pranay Dutta Roy)

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