On sun-baked afternoons in summer, amidst the chirping of crickets and calls of birds, they tread cautiously in a group through the turbid waters of Sundarban, with a palpable sense of fear, thinking when the mighty predator would pounce on them from the thick mangrove bushes.
The honey collectors of Sundarban, who risk their lives and elude the Royal Bengal tigers to bring back the most natural honey, are now finding it difficult to make ends meet as cyclone Amphan has left a trail of devastation in the largest mangrove forest in the world.
Sundarban that has always been a rich source of raw materials, now lies in ruins as strong and howling winds uprooted trees, leading to severe loss in mangroves.
The forest, apart from being a global tourist destination, provides livelihood to all villagers who dwell in the many islands of the forest which disappears and re-appears with the tides.
The locals cohabit the space with the wildlife.
The honey from Sunderban reaches towns and cities in the state after the collectors enter the dense vegetation to retrieve it from the bee-hives.
Many lose their lives to the mighty carnivore throughout the year.
However, this time the threat has come in the garb of immense losses as the honey trade took a hit due to Covid-19 lockdown first, and then the cyclone Amphan, which ravaged the forest.
‘Sundarini Naturals’, a food brand of the state government’s Sundarban Cooperative Milk and Livestock Producer’s Union Ltd.(SCMLPL) is witness to the plight of these honey collectors and the farmers of Sunderban.
Talking to The Statesman, the managing director of Sundarini, Dr Ambika Prasad Mishra, said “Sundarban honey products have taken a severe hit. April to May is the best season for honey collection but honey collectors were not permitted to enter the forest due to the Covid19 lockdown since March. The cyclone Amphan was a double whammy. We have around 600 honey collectors who are now almost penniless. No supply of honey products have been coming since long.”
He pointed out, “The approximate amount of sale of Sundarini honey in summer is about 1500kg/month while in winter it is, 2000kg/month. We use to sell Sundarini products which comprise four varieties of rice, pulses milk products etc. worth three lakh approximately in one day while in a month, it was close to 90 lakhs. Ever since lockdown, the sale is almost zero. Products of organic farming are quite famous here but Amphan destroyed agricultural fields and also damaged several cattle sheds. We compiled a report and have sent it to the state government.”