Move over motichoor and boondi laddu, here comes the power packed mahua laddu
Women from the Kondh tribal community in Kandhamal, Odisha have been trained to make laddus from the mahua flowers that has enhanced their livelihood. The state government plans to introduce these nutritious laddus in anganwadis and tribal residential schools.
Niroj Ranjan Misra 17 July 2023 8:56 AM GMT
The delicious aroma of roasting almonds, cashew nuts, sesame seeds, coconut, and groundnuts intermingle with the smell of molten jaggery as Santilata Kanhar mixes them together. To this nutritious mixture, the 28-year-old adds powdered mahua flowers called mahuli phula in Odia.
“Right in the end I will add some ghee made from cow milk, and when the mixture is still hot, but not too hot to hold, I will make them into laddus,” said the inhabitant of Jhamujhari village in Kandhamal.
The sweet journey began for Santilata, who belongs to the Kondh tribal community, in 2021 when she was trained by Odisha government’s Integrated Tribal Development Agency (ITDA), to make mahuli (also known as mahua) laddus. These laddus, which are sold for Rs 5 each, have become a source of income for Santilata and several other tribal women in the eastern state.
About 25 women including Santilata were selected from the villages of Jhamujhari and Krandibali in Kandhamal district to be trained by the ITDA to make and sell laddus out of the mahua flowers.
These women now earn anything up to Rs 3,000 every month from the laddus that they sell in the local markets. They are also training other women self-help groups (SHGs) to prepare mahuli laddus.
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From mahua flower gatherers to mahua laddu makers
Shantilata lives in Jhamujhari village in Phulbani block of Kandhamal district. Before getting trained in making mahuli laddus, she sold mahua flowers for a living at Rs 25 to Rs 30 a kilogramme. “But now, I make laddus out of those flowers and sell them for Rs 180 a kilo,” she told Gaon Connection.
“Half a kilo of the dried flower powder, 100 grams each of jaggery, coconut, almonds, groundnuts, cashew nuts and cow ghee, along with 150 grams of sesame, makes about 500 laddus, each weighing about 10 grams,” explained Santilata.
Purnima Majhi from Karnadagada village told Gaon Connection that the cost price of each laddu came to about two rupees, while the laddus are sold at five rupees a piece. “We sell laddus in packets of six each. They weigh about 100 grams,” said the 29-year-old.
According to her, on an average, the women make about 500 laddus in a fortnight. Laddu-making is their side business, while their main occupation is paddy cultivation and collection of minor forest produce. Each of their households earns about Rs 40,000 annually from their paddy cultivation. They earn around Rs 20,000 each every year from the sale of minor forest produce, such as mahua flowers, and tendu leaves.
Explaining the process of laddu-making, 31-year-old Mamata Majhi, another woman trained by ITDA in Krandibali village, said: “We spread polythene sheets under the mahuli trees. We collect the flowers that fall from the branches. We dry them with their stamens intact.”
Once the flowers are dry, they are packed into sacks the insides of which are lined with polythene sheets that keep the flowers safe from moisture, she continued.
“Whenever we make the laddus, we take the required quantity of dried flowers from the sack, remove their inedible stamens and powder them,” explained Mamata.
According to her, women collect as much as six quintals of flowers between end January and end March, and then dry them in the sun. Traditionally, the dried flowers are sold to be mixed with cattle feed or fermented into an indigenous alcoholic beverage. But now, tribal women also make mahuli laddus.
Training other women SHGs
Women like Mamta, who were the first 25 tribal women to be trained by ITDA to make mahuli laddus, now visits about 60 other SHGs in the adjoining villages of Phulbani block to train other women in making mahua laddus.
They speak to these women at weekly meetings organised by the Vandhan Vikas Kendras and TRIFED (Tribal Cooperative Marketing Development Federation). The initial batch of 25 women are expected to train another 600 women from SHGs in the adjoining villages.
In 2020-21, ITDA Phulbani, along with the help of the Tribal Sub-plan of the central government, spent Rs 20,000 to provide these 25 women with a set of weighing scales, cast iron standard weights, and plastic containers.
In 2022-23 the project was brought under the Van Dhan Vikas Karyakram to continue with its experimentation along with the support of the TRIFED.
Van Dhan Vikas Karyakram is an initiative targeting livelihood generation for tribals by harnessing the wealth of forests. The programme aims to tap into traditional knowledge and skill sets of tribals by adding technology and IT to upgrade it at each stage and to convert the tribal wisdom into a viable economic activity.
So far, the Tribal Development Cooperative Corporation of Odisha Limited, Bhubaneswar, has spent Rs 1.5 lakh on this project, Murali Mohan, ITDA Project manager, based in Phulbani, told Gaon Connection.
“We have a plan to set up two processing units for drying the flowers, powdering them, removing the stamens and packing and stocking them, in Taladandika and Jhamujhari panchayats in Phulbani Block, Kandhamal district at a cost of over Rs 5 lakh. These units will be equipped with solar dryers, pulverising machines, grinders, peel extractors, and stamen removers,” the official added.
“In February last year we sent 12 of the 25 women on a visit to Nandubar and Gadchiroli district headquarters in Maharashtra for a seven-day training conducted by the Krishi Vigyan Kendras there. SHGs there also make similar laddus,” informed Murali Mohan.
Health benefits of mahua laddus
“The mahuli flowers are sweet in themselves, and they also contain fat, vitamin C and minerals such as calcium, manganese, iron and phosphorus,” Nrushingha Dash, a nutritionist based in Cuttack, told Gaon Connection.
According to Janmejaya Patra, the team leader in charge of TRIFED’s two Van Dhan Vikas Kendras at Taladandika and Paderipada, these mahua laddus will be laboratory-tested.
“If everything goes well, we will apply to the Bhubaneswar-based Odisha unit of Food Safety and Standards Authority of India for a food licence,” said Patra.
The official went on to inform that two anganwadi centres and two tribal residential school hostels in Phulbani will be selected, and the children there will be given the laddus to eat for six months after which an assessment will be made if there are any health benefits of the laddus. Accordingly, the laddus will be distributed to many more children, he said.
“We are also working on a marketing strategy. We will showcase and sell mahuli laddus at Aadi Mahotsav in Delhi in 2024. We will also sell them at fairs and exhibitions organised within the state. We will involve private parties to broaden the marketing network,” said Murali, the ITDA project manager. “Our mahuli laddus will be sold anywhere between Rs 600 and Rs 800 per kg,” said the official.