Dhamtari, May 4 (IANS/ 101Reporters) Summers are here and temperatures are soaring, with the fierce heat leaving throats parched and bodies fatigued. In this tiny Chhattisgarh village, a traditional soft drink made from tikhur (commonly known as East Indian arrowroot or narrow-leaved turmeric) is not only providing relief from this scorching heat but has also come as a welcome means of employment for local tribal women.
Tikhur is a forest produce found in and around the Sihawa mountain in Dhamtari district. In Dugali, it’s found in/cultivated on around 25 hectares. Locals have been using the tuber for centuries for its cooling properties, incorporating it in halwa and thandai. It keeps the body cool and reduces the risk of heatstroke. Capitalising on this quality of tikhur, the women belonging to the Jagriti Balika Self Help Group (SHG) in Dugali village have started making and selling it as a soft drink mix, with the support of the Forest Department. The department buys the tuber at around Rs 20 per kg from locals and supplies it to the SHG.
SHG member, Anju Mercam, 24, spoke to 101Reporters about the making of these drinks, “First of all, the tubers that are brought from the forest are sorted to get the good quality ones, which are washed, cleaned and dried in the sun. After that, they are put in a crusher and the top layer is removed. They are then cut into small pieces and fed into another machine for grinding.”
“After grinding, it is put in mud pots where we attempt to extract all the white starch from it. In this process, the tuber is washed and filtered repeatedly from one pitcher to another. This is continued until absolutely no white starch is left in the tuber. The starch obtained is sun-dried in a wide-mouth pot and is then cut into shapes. This end-product is used in making the soft drinks which we call ‘local cola’,” Anju added. Every quintal of tuber (i.e 100 kg) yields 5 kg of starch.
This white powder, sold in the form of jaggery, is simply added to water to create a refreshing drink.
Anju said that she earns 120 rupees a day by doing this work. This works out to up to 3000-3500 rupees a month, which is very useful for her and her family, she says.
Kumari Thameswari Dhruv, assistant-in-charge of the SHG’s processing centre, said that currently, a total of 20 women have been employed in the manufacturing process, working towards the “vocal for local” dream. While in the summer, the SHG manufactures this local cola, during the monsoon and winter, they make organic plates and bowls.
Divya Kunjam, another member of the SHG, said apart from employment, the venture also provides a safe working environment for the local women, so that their families remain free from worrying about any security concerns. She thanked the forest department for this, saying the department has also provided the SHG with some modern machines to help them scale up their production.
K.S. Madhukar, Deputy Officer (Deputy Ranger), Dugali Forest Zone told 101Reporters that this drink from Dugali has managed to carve out a distinct identity for itself in the entire state. He said, “The tuber found in the forests here has a very high amount of starch called Curcuma Angustifolia. The soft drink that is made from it is pure white and clean.” He said that due to its unique colour, it commands a higher price in the market compared to drinks made from Tikhur grown in other places. At present, the cost of Dugali tikhur is Rs 1000 per kg.
In order to take Dugali’s tikhur drink and similar forest produce to the market, the Chhattisgarh State Small Forest Produce Association has opened a dedicated store in the state capital of Raipur which sells these forest produce and forest medicines. Apart from this, wholesalers can also procure the product from the Dugali processing centre itself.
This year, 578 quintals of tuber were processed by the SHG who produced nearly 3,000 kg of the drink mix. Of this, 70 per cent goes to the Raipur mart, 24 per cent is sold at the Dhamtari Dhanvantari Mart and 6 per cent is sold locally. The SHG gets 6 per cent of the total income generated. The rest is shared between the various marts and the forest department.
Anil Kumar Verma, Chief Forest Officer of the Dugali forest zone, says that this ‘local cola’ is loved not only by the local people but also by the soldiers deployed in these Naxal-hit areas. He said, “The brave soldiers of our country carry this drink during their patrols. It is a matter of pride for us to be quenching the thirst of the soldiers engaged in protecting Bastar and the country.”
(The author is a Dhamtari-based freelance journalist and a member of 101Reporters.com, a pan-India network of grassroots reporters.)