Forest-dependent communities in India harvest a range of wild resources. While some of it is for subsistence, a large part of Minor Forest Products (MFP) collections contributes to their income. Forest Post helps assert value to forest produce through engaging with MFP gatherers and bringing together women’s groups trained in value-addition.
Our indigenous women’s enterprises are scattered in six villages in the Chalakudy and Karuvannur River Basins in central Kerala’s Western Ghats. They are into production of beeswax skin care, bamboo craft and value-addition of wild foods.
The raw materials come from seasonal harvests from central Kerala’s forests as well as other parts of India. Forest people almost always know where to find the resources and what time of the year. They also know how much to harvest without exploiting. It is as if “sustainability”, a much used word today, is embedded in their native wisdom.
Rationale of our Intervention
Securing sustainable livelihoods among native forest-dwelling communities can go a long way in ensuring forest conservation, for while they continue engaging with the forest and its resources, whether for sustenance or for MFP sales, they preserve a certain knowledge of the forest and keep an eye on its status and distribution. In effect, they become true stewards of conservation. If forest-dwelling people can find a creative and dignified source of income through a meaningful engagement with forests – their ancestral domain, then they are not forced to move to towns to seek menial jobs.
Conventional MFPs such as honey and medicinal plants are bought from the Adivasis by the Forest Development Agency of the State Forest Department at fair prices. And yet, market fluctuations and uncertainties mark the trail of MFP demand and sales in town markets. We met MFP harvesters in Kadar villages and brought in a few more non-conventional forest resources (Cycas, ferns, Sour lime, Wild Grape and Asparagus) into the harvest regime. Fair prices were given to MFP harvesters. Bamboo weavers were given trainings on treatment methods and design. Women’s groups were galvanised around value addition and this opened up income generation activities in the villages.
We now know that skill development can enhance forest produce – based livelihoods to support the local economy. Alongside, it addresses deeper issues of gender and equality through creating confidence building and decision-making spaces.
In the end, it is about creating better places for people to live. And when it comes to forest-dwelling people, it is about safeguarding their enduring relationship with the environment.
We began in 2017 as a Project supported by the Keystone Foundation in the Nilgiris and as part of the activities of a grassroots network under the Global Alliance for Gender and Green Action (GAGGA). Three years down, there came the need to create market linkages, streamline production and supply from all Adivasi women’s collectives and create a viable business model. This crucial support came from UNDP- India. Going forward, our marketing efforts will be channelised through Dharaa Livelihood Initiative LLP, registered in July 2021.
Women and Youth Associates