Tribal hamlet triumphs against all odds

LIFELINE: A tribal collecting eucalyptus oil from the oil extraction unit in Siddhartha colony of Thamballapalle mandal in Chittoor district.  

A.D. Rangarajan

Oil-extracting unit comes as a boon to the tribals of this village who face severe drought conditions

Forest Department plants eucalyptus, sanctions oil distillation unitBodha oil fetches Rs.250-300 per kg while the eucalyptus oil goes for Rs.125 a kgFarmers start growing eucalyptus citroda, palmarosa instead of traditional crops

THAMBALLAPALLE: These tribals are skilled at "extracting" the maximum out of every opportunity knocking at their door. No wonder then that they are doing brisk business, thus bringing in a turnaround in their lives that has hitherto seen only drought, poverty and mass exodus.

Despite being a constituency headquarters, Thamballapalle is a sleepy remote village, but the Siddhartha colony in Yetigaddathanda, a Yanadi hamlet situated on its outskirts, is as vibrant and active as a beehive. The area is infamous for migration during drought, but the village has shown extreme resilience and fought the drought in its own hinterland. Now, the residents of all the 52 households have a job on hand.

Team work

The hill ranges are rich in aromatic grass varieties, which are used in herbal medicines and cosmetics. The Forest Department's sanction of a eucalyptus plantation and a Rs.3 lakh oil distillation unit to this Vana Samrakshana Samithi (VSS) could not have been timed better, which has come as a blessing for these Yanadis.

Since the VSS members hail from a homogenous community, the group dynamics work out to excellent synergy. While others collect the Bodha and Kasi grass and leaves of eucalyptus, eucalyptus citroda and palmarosa, VSS chairman Madarapu Eswaraiah does the extraction part. "We used to sell the grass earlier, which fetched us almost nothing, while the extracted oil is having a great demand. We are also prepared to buy grass from other villages, if they come forward," a confidence-personified Eswaraiah told The Hindu .

According to Divisional Forest Officer (Chittoor West) Siddhanand Kukreti, the tribals employ hydro-distillation process to extract oil. While bodha oil fetches Rs.250-300 per kg, the eucalyptus oil goes for Rs.125 a kg.

Thriving business

Scenting the huge potential in store, some maverick farmers have dared to think beyond the traditional crops and started growing these plants in their fields.

In fact, this is not the lone extraction unit in Chittoor West forest division, but two in Kuppam and one in Palamaner are in the business for over a year. And what more, they are making good money, thanks to their proximity to Bangalore city, which has an unlimited market for these oils, given the burgeoning cosmetics industry.

With the tribals are getting ready to scale new heights, the Forest Department is expected to grow premium varieties like lemon grass and Dhavanam on a large scale to lend them a helping hand.