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A better way for Indian bay

Bay, known in India and Nepal as tejpat, is a form of aromatic laurel which grows on poor and degraded soils in the vertiginous Himalayan foothills. Harvesting the leaves from ends of branches, liable to break, is a hazard and challenge; being light and agile is certainly an advantage. However, some harvesters take the safer option of cutting entire branches, endangering trees and putting longer-term income at risk. But efforts to increase villagers' earnings, while safeguarding trees, have begun to bear fruit.

Harvesting bay leaves on the steep slopes of Uttarakhand state can be treacherous (Dyutiman Choudhary)
Harvesting bay leaves on the steep slopes of Uttarakhand state can be treacherous
Dyutiman Choudhary

Two hundred kilometres north east of Delhi, Uttarakhand state is home to incredible biodiversity, and houses both the enormous Nanda Devi Biosphere Reserve and the Jim Corbett National Park, famous for its tigers. With a huge diversity of medicinal and aromatic plants (MAPs), it has declared itself a 'herbal' state, and is keenly promoting bay leaf (Cinnamomum tamala), as a means of income generation for the poor and landless. With the support of the Himalayan Action and Research Centre (HARC) and the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD), five villages in Nizmoola valley, Chamoli district, are trialling a system in which control over bay leaf collection on forest reserve land has, for the first time, been given to six self-help groups. As a result, the harvesters, who are mostly women, have been able to improve their harvesting methods and double what they earn from each kilo of dried leaves.

Changing the system

Under the former system of collection, the Uttarakhand Forest Department opened up certain areas for bay leaf collection on a five year rotation, and allocated permits to traders, who hired local people to do the harvesting. Community members were encouraged to harvest as much as possible from each tree, which led to cutting of whole branches and stripping of bark. They did no grading of the leaves, and received 8-10 rupees per kg, a price determined by traders at the main trading centres in the state.

Sustainable harvesting involves picking leaves rather than chopping off entire branches (HARC)
Sustainable harvesting involves picking leaves rather than chopping off entire branches
HARC

Under the new system, group members have been trained by government forestry officers in sustainable harvesting methods (harvesting only small twigs with leaves rather than whole branches), and in proper drying, grading and storing of leaves. The groups have also devised norms to ensure sustainable harvesting among the wider community, such as allowing only one collector per household and only one headload per day. Once the leaves have been dried and graded, they are packed into sacks and carried to a storage depot, where collectors receive an initial payment from the Forest Development Corporation (FDC) - currently set at 10 rupees per kg - with the balance paid once the leaves have been sold.

A more flexible policy in how the leaves can be sold has also benefited the harvesters. Previously, all bay leaves were auctioned at one of three sites established by the FDC, but the closest of these was over 300 km away, leading to high transport costs for the producers. Under the pilot project, a one-off local auction has been organised, for the first time in the state. The FDC and HARC have also obtained organic certification for the leaves, contributing to a higher sale price. Members of the self-help groups will also be involved in further grading and packaging of bay leaves after the auction, and are planning to take on simple processing, such as making bay leaf powder, an ingredient of garam masala spice.

New challenges

For HARC, the implementing partner of the project, creating an effective partnership with the state Forest Department has been a crucial breakthrough, enabling readjustments of the forestry working plans to be agreed, for example, in setting up bay leaf collection areas. Organising the groups to introduce new systems for collection and trade of the leaves has also been challenging, as has the complex process of obtaining harvesting permits. A delay in granting the permit in the project's first season meant the groups were only able to collect around seven tonnes of leaves, far less than their 30 tonne quota.

The Himalayan Action and Research Centre has implemented the project, in partnership with the state forest department (HARC)
The Himalayan Action and Research Centre has implemented the project, in partnership with the state forest department
HARC

With various new developments underway, the project is not resting on its laurels. Given the danger of the harvesting work, one aim is to include all registered group members within a joint insurance policy, subsidised by the government. The Forest Department, meanwhile, is being encouraged to consider a new rotation system, to ensure a more regular supply of income to villagers. Improving dried leaf quality and developing value-added products are also being researched. Beyond that, the Principal Chief Conservator of Forests is interested in using the experience gained from harvesting and marketing bay leaf as a model for other non-timber forest products in the state.

Date published: July 2009

 

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