Collection and sale of Sal seeds in Gumla
The Sal tree (Shorea robusta) is revered culturally and economically in Gumla, as in other parts of Jharkhand. The bloom of Sal flowers marks the celebration of Sarhul in the Hindi month of phalgun (March-April). These celebrations are soon followed by a difficult period in May and June, given the shortage in food reserves and limited alternate sources of income.
During this period, the fresh Sal blooms transform into fruits, ripen, and fall to the forest floor. In the scorching heat of May and June, women in Gumla roam around in the forest to search for the fallen Sal fruits, and after toiling hard for eight to ten hours a day they return to their homesteads with 8-10 Kgs. These fruits are left to be dried in the sun for a few days, and women use their traditional skills to determine the ripe moment for further processing the sundried kernels. The next step in the process is to burn these sundried kernels for removing the seed wings, followed by manual husking of the ash, separating the burnt kernels. Further, the women crush the burnt kernels using stone tools and winnow to separate the Sal seeds from the residual waste. These Sal seeds are then collected and sold by the women collectors to the traders in local markets.
The net outcome of these efforts – beginning with collecting the fallen Sal fruits, drying them, burning, husking, crushing, then winnowing, and travelling to sell in the nearest market – is a meagre earning of 5-12 INR per Kg of the Sal seeds. Despite the drudgery involved, women collect this Seasonal Forest Product (SFP) as it procures them low but quick cash incomes in the lean agricultural season. The Initiative on the Forest Economy at ISB is working towards adding value to the Sal seeds, with a focus on reducing the drudgery of the women collectors and enabling them to earn higher incomes through the seasonal affair of collecting and selling the Sal seeds.