After squash with medicinal properties, rhododendron flowers to be made into jam and jelly
The rhododendron does not merely add a dash of bright scarlet to the near-barren heights of Tawang in Arunachal Pradesh for three months of the year when it is in bloom.
It has also begun to light up people’s lives by becoming a source of livelihood for the rest of the year.
The villagers of Sakpret village in Tawang are set for a sweeter future. Four years after a community rhododendron squash production unit was set up in the village, there are plans to produce jam and jelly as well.
The Tawang rhododendron squash, as it is branded, is made from the extract of the flowers and has an array of medicinal properties.
The unit was set up under the technical guidance of InsPIRE Network for Environment, an NGO, under a project in collaboration with the department of science and technology.
The project — establishment of a community-owned rhododendron arboretum in the community forests of Arunachal Pradesh — has an overall aim to link enterprise development with conservation.
In India, more than 90 species of rhododendron are recorded, of which Arunachal Pradesh has 61. “The project is undergoing an upgrade. We are increasing the product base and planning to produce jams and jellies from the next season. We will take help from Krishi Vigyan Kendra, Dirang, for training. K.M. Jayahari, programme officer, and I have also been to the units of Centre for Technology Development in Uttarakhand and were trained in squash production before starting the work in Tawang,” Monalisa Sen, programme officer, InsPIRE Network for Environment, told The Telegraph.
Efforts are on to provide technological inputs and marketing efforts to improve the product and make it available to more people.
The project began in 2008 and the unit started production in 2009.
Nearly 3,000-3,500 litres of squash is produced every year. The community gets a net profit of around 40,000 per year.
The profit is shared equitably among the families of the village after a third of it is contributed to the village development fund.
Villagers were trained to prepare the squash in extremely hygienic conditions, as well as in the sustainable collection of rhododendron flowers, plucking less than one-third of the flowers from each tree.
The process is managed on eight hectares of community forest land.
A community resolution has declared the forest land as the arboretum and a community organisation — the Sakpret Village Community Food Processing Unit (Administrative Committee) — registered under the Registrar of Societies, Arunachal Pradesh.
“We are looking for declaration of the restored area as a new sacred grove, locally known as nge (in accordance with Buddhist traditions), for long term conservation and sustainable extraction of rhododendron flowers.
“The community has already restored two hectares of degraded area through reforestation using the rhododendron saplings raised in the community nursery. Declaring the area a sacred grove will be a new initiative to revive the traditional conservation values in the region, which will strengthen the overall nature conservation efforts,” the official said.