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Solanum torvum and the Ayyalur forest region  

This article has been published in NTFP EP’s Leaf Litter, June 2022.

The Ayyalur tribal area is situated in Dindigul district, Tamil Nadu, India. The landscape consists of dry deciduous forests and is a part of the Eastern Ghats region. As a whole the region is declining in bio-diversity. However, the chain of small hills and forested uplands is home to many endemic and vulnerable species. The Grey Slender Loris is the key habitat species of this region and it’s distribution extends to other parts of India and Sri Lanka. 

The tribal people in the Ayyalur region are relatively isolated and possess good knowledge of medicinal and forest foods. They collect forest foods, many of them being a good source of fiber, proteins and other nutrients. They also collect medicinal herbs from the forest to treat live stock and to treat their own ailments. 

sundakkai berries for market
Sundakkai or Turkey Berry

A major forest product of the region is sundakkai, (Turkey berry), which is collected and traded in local markets. The botanical name of sundakkai is Solanum torvum. It is a shrub growing up to 3 meters with a diameter of 2 cm. It has a life span of about 3 years. The berries are green and turn yellow when ripe; they should be harvested when still green. Each 100 gm of the berry contains 22.5 mg of iron (Fe), 390 mg of calcium (Ca), 180 mg of phosphorus (P); the berries also contain proteins, alkaloids, flavonoids, glycosides and other nutrients. They are known to help increase White Blood Cells (WBC) and prevent anemia; reduce bad cholesterol; reduce and eliminate toxins in the body; eliminate parasites in the system; regulate blood sugar; relieve asthma and cold; aid digestion; and strengthen bones and prevent skin diseases. 

Unsafe processing of the sundakkai berries

Improving the harvesting methods

The tribal communities in the region harvest the berry for consumption and marketing. However, the harvesting and processing were done in a haphazard way, often destroying the regenerative capacity of the plants. When SEEDS Trust organized it’s Slender Loris Conservation Program in the Ayyalur region it found signs of forest degradation due to unsustainable practices of the community, which threatened the entire habitat. To make a holistic intervention that addressed the people and the environment, the Trust established livelihood generation programs along with environmental conservation. Since the community has been dependent on forests for generations, sustainable and safe collection of forest produce was introduced; marketing strategies were a part of the programme. 

The activities undertaken were safe collection methods, like harvesting only the mature fruit; leaving the fully ripe fruit for regeneration; and harvesting limited quantities, leaving enough for others; better processing methods (for drying, using tarpaulins), strict standards of cleanliness, and shadow drying; and value addition made by soaking berries in butter milk and salt. In the market the berries that were sold without value-addition costs Rs 80/kg; the price is Rs 160/- when value-added. This inspired the people to conserve the environment as well as gain better incomes. 

Editor: P Muthusamy