Rich biodiversity of Gandhamardan Hills awaits policy to tap therapeutic goldmine

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Photo credit Baijayanti Rout

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By Baijayanti Rout

Bhubaneswar, December 27: Bolangir and Bargarh Districts are covered in the Gandhamardan Hills with lush vegetation, which spans an area of about 18,629 hectares of protected forest land. A total of 6512 hectares of this property are located inside the Bolangir District.

In the past, intermediaries who bought the raw seeds, leaves, and fruits of these therapeutic herbs used to entice the tribal people living in the Gandharmardan range, 80 kilometres from Bolangir District, who were unaware of the true value of these plants. Most of these plant species had reached the point of extinction because they had been improperly exploited for so long.

The Center and State Governments devised a strategy to safeguard these therapeutic plants and improve the quality of life for tribal people after realising the threat these unsettling patterns posed. The Vanaspati Vana Society eventually established the Vanaspati Vana project. Ten communities have been chosen for this initiative, and local committees have been established in each hamlet.

The Odisa Government started a project to encourage medicinal cultivation at Gandhamardan Hills in Bolangir District as part of a unique effort in 2003. Additionally, the initiative intended to improve the quality of life for the tribal people who live nearby the hills, which are renowned for their natural visual vista of rivulets and therapeutic plants.

According to the range’s Divisional Forest Officer, the tribes were made significantly more money than they did previously since the society cleans the minor forest produce before packing and selling it in the market. With assistance from the Central government and the state, this initiative was started.

The project has been funded with Rs 1.83 crores within five years. The project’s primary goal is to protect, reproduce, and conserve the Gandhamardan Hills’ unique biodiversity. The economic situation of the people who depend on the forest has also improved as a result of this initiative, according Divisional Forest Officer (DFO), and
Gandhamardan Range of Balangir.

Importantly, the villagers claimed that since the establishment of this society, they were making enough money to support their families and are pleased with how the society is operating. The forest and Gandhamardan were safe due to the creation of the Banaspati Bana initiative in that time. The medicinal plants were being cared for after being abandoned and squandered in the past.

Many fruits cultivated in the forest were previously purchased from tribe members for extremely low prices by local business people. The pricing were determined after the creation of the Vanaspati Society. Tribal from nearby villages were used to sell their produce after learning of the achievement in order to receive higher prices, said one of the villagers.

The tribal people guard the forest’s most valuable resources while also gathering several types of medicinal plant roots and minor forest food that may be sold for a profit. However, the euphoria of the nearby woodland dwellers was short-lived. After five years, the project has changed; it was not successfully finished.

Locals are quite dissatisfied with the project’s lack of success. The local economic and environmentally beneficial development, such as Banaspati Bana Prakalpa, should once more be restarted by the government. Through the initiative, the economic situation of the indigenous tribes would be improved, and effective forest management would be maintained.

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