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Tendu leaves - providing essential income during the Covid-19 pandemic


Grown on the common land of southern Rajasthan, the Tendu plant is a major source of income for the farming families in this region. Its leaves are the most profitable part of the plant and are commonly used to make ‘Beedis', but also used for medicinal purposes.

Harvesting Tendu leaves is labour intensive and women (who are generally responsible for this task) are seen on the hillsides in the early morning collecting the leaves. Each bundle of 50-60 leaves is only worth approximately INR 1, so thousands of leaves and hours of work are needed to make any sort of profit.

The Covid-19 pandemic and ensuing lockdown made it extremely difficult for women to sell the Tendu leaves. Families' already meagre incomes had already been hit by the crisis, and now Tendu collection centres had shut down. Bundles upon bundles of leaves were piling up at the women's houses.

As the lockdown was gradually lifted, the collection centres were reopened, much to the great relief of the women who now had many bundles of leaves to sell. In Udaipur district, hundreds of people had gathered at the collection centre in the region of Kotra (one of the poorest in India), with long queues of mostly women with children in hand waiting to sell their bundles. Women have the potential to earn between INR 200 to INR 400 from the sale, but with the centre running on a ‘first come, first served' basis, competition is high.

One of the women, Rekhadevi, explained how important the income would be for her and her family: "We have been waiting the whole lockdown to sell the produce. It used to help us get money to buy seeds and fertilisers for agriculture. But now this will help in buying essential supplies instead."

Covid-19 cases are now being reported in bigger numbers in the rural areas of India. For most families in this region, becoming sick is not just a health concern, it is also extremely expensive. Working members of the family who fall sick are not able to cultivate crops, tend to livestock or perform any form of work that is vital to their families' income. Shantilal, a leader of a Seva Mandir facilitated Village Institution, is anxious for the future: "It is extremely difficult times for us. The common land has proved to be our lifesaver. But that alone cannot provide for the entire year."

Going forward, Seva Mandir is implementing comprehensive livelihood support to ensure that families have the ability and tools to protect their livelihoods and mitigate the effects of the pandemic.

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