Ukhrul: Manipur is blessed with a rich biodiversity and natural resources that need to be nurtured with care, and people in the state preserve and value these resources. This time around, some women in the hill district of Ukhrul are showing the way on how the wealth of the forest can enhance the livelihood and economic condition of society.
At least 3,300 women in the district are being trained in making various products, especially candies out of different wild fruits that are easily found in the nearby jungles, under the Van Dhan Vikas Kendra (VDVK), a livelihood scheme for a forest dwellers development area through value addition of tribal products.
The scheme was initiated by the Union ministry of tribal affairs and Tribal Cooperative Marketing Development Federation of India (TRIFED).
Under the VDVK, the tribal women in the hill district are producing an assortment of fruit candies made out of gooseberries, plums, wild apples and other seasonal fruits abundantly found in the wild. They have also started making candies from wild figs.
On Saturday, the minister of forest, environment and climate change, Awangbou Newmai, visited two of the clusters in the hill district at Hungpung Kazipphung and Hunphun VDVK centres for an inspection of the fruit products.
Speaking at the event, the forest minister said that preserving forest is safeguarding human race and urged the gathering to nurture, preserve and protect the ecological environment.
He also stated that at least 499 sq km of the forest cover in the state has drastically declined in two years due to various factors, including jhum cultivation. A proper policy to control and protect the forest area needs to be formulated, he added.
Recently, Manipur bagged the first position out of 22 states in the country under the tribal affairs ministry’s VDVK scheme. Significantly, Hungpung Kazipphung cluster from Ukhrul, which comprises of 300 women, was adjudged the best VDVK of the year based on their gooseberry candy products and performances.
Launched in October 2019 in Manipur by chief minister N Biren Singh, there are at least 77 VDVKs in the state with around 1,196 Self Help Groups (SHGs) and 23,255 women tribal women are part of the initiative.
Speaking with EastMojo, master trainer of VDVK and proprietor of Zingran Foods, Pemmichon Tungshang, said that women collect the wild fruits from the jungle and later, they are taught on the various steps involved in making candies from the forest produce.
“So far, the district under the VDVK scheme has produced eight tonnes (8,000 kg) of various candies from the wild fruits. This will be outsourced to various states,” said Tungshang.
As per the master trainer, around 2,000 kg of fruit products have already been sold out to various consumers and another 6,000 kg are ready for shipping. Also, the maximum order comes from Delhi and Guwahati since TRIFED offices are based in these two cities.
“Under the VDVK programme, instead of financial assistance, we were provided basic equipment like gas, stove, knife and oven, among others, to utilise in the production. All the women of the SHGs are also being trained on using the equipment,” added Tungshang.
According to principal chief conservator of forest and head of forest force, Kereilhouvi Angami, the scheme provides market access to their products as well as to upgrade the tribal products to a viable scale.
So far, as per the official, VDVKs of the three districts such as Ukhrul, Senapati and Kangpokpi have received demands worth Rs 1.66 crore of their products from consumers.
The event on Saturday was also attended by MLA Alfred Kanngam Arthur, MLA K Leishiyo, MLA Khashim Vashum, Ukhrul ADC chairman Yaronsho Ngalung, additional chief secretary MH Khan and other officials from the state.