Grind­ing to a halt

Down to Earth - - Forest/Governance - Beedi @ikukreti

caters to the do­mes­tic mar­ket. “This is be­cause poli­cies take time to trans­late into ac­tion in an un­or­gan­ised in­dus­try like lac,” he adds. Agar­wal, how­ever, says he is not in a po­si­tion to buy fresh lac even if they ar­rive. “I have not been able to sell my stocks as most of my clients are in coun­tries like the US, China and Spain that are badly hit by the pan­demic,” says Agar­wal.

NTFPs like lac are in high de­mand from phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal and cos­metic sec­tors, among oth­ers, and a sub­stan­tial share of the com­modi­ties are ex­ported. In 2018-19, In­dia ex­ported `473.9 crore worth of lac, as per the Min­istry of Com­merce and In­dus­try. How­ever, all in­ter­na­tional trade has come to a grind­ing halt since February when the pan­demic spread in mul­ti­ple coun­tries.

The other such com­mod­ity is tree-oil ex­tracted from seeds of mahua, sal and sev­eral other NTFPs. Cos­met­ics and con­fec­tionary in­dus­tries are the big­gest con­sumers of the oils. “Tree-oil ex­ports have re­duced by 40 per cent and we are not sure when this mar­ket will re­open. We are now sur­viv­ing on the do­mes­tic mar­ket which is also shrink­ing fast,” says Swap­nil Patil of Raipur-based Manorama In­dus­tries that man­u­fac­tures and sup­plies ex­otic and spe­cialty fats and oils.

The im­pact is also pal­pa­ble on sec­tors like hand­i­crafts. “We have an un­sold in­ven­tory of over `100 crore,” says Pravir Kr­ishna, man­ag­ing di­rec­tor at the Tribal Co­op­er­a­tive Mar­ket­ing De­vel­op­ment Fed­er­a­tion of In­dia. The lock­down has also led to the can­cel­la­tion of In­dia’s largest hand­i­crafts fair, the Ex­port Pro­mo­tion Coun­cil for Hand­i­crafts, to be held from April 15 to 19. There are about 300,000 fam­i­lies in­volved in the pro­duc­tion of

The cur­rent lock­down has hit the mar­ket for all non-tim­ber for­est pro­duces ex­cept tendu drop in mar­ket in past three months

Peak col­lec­tion sea­sons drop in mar­ket in past three months

Peak col­lec­tion sea­sons hand­i­craft and hand­loom items in the coun­try. “We have de­cided to buy the un­sold items and have set aside `500 crore for it,” he adds.


But not all are as for­tu­nate. Most col­lec­tors feel the heat of mar­ket stag­na­tion as sev­eral NTFP com­modi­ties are highly per­ish­able. Lac, for ex­am­ple, is tem­per­a­ture sen­si­tive. Once col­lected, it has to be kept in cold stor­age within a day. Or else, it turns into a solid un­us­able mass. “With mar­kets and trans­ports closed, peo­ple are not able to sell lac,” says Beni Puri, a Ch­hat­tis­garh-based re­searcher with non­profit drop in mar­ket in past three months

Peak col­lec­tion sea­sons drop in mar­ket in past three months

Peak col­lec­tion sea­sons drop in mar­ket in past three months

Peak col­lec­tion sea­sons Ox­fam In­dia that works on liveli­hood is­sues.

Dasarathi Be­hera of Kala­handibased aware­ness group Odisha Jungle Manch too cites an in­stance. Be­fore the lock­down, the residents of vil­lage Dhar­ma­garh had re­ceived an or­der for bam­boo from a trader in Puri. “They have gath­ered the re­quired vol­ume. But the trader is not able to ar­range a trans­porter for car­ring the goods,” he says.

An­other im­pact of the lock­down has been a crash in NTFP prices. Mahua flow­ers, for ex­am­ple, were ex­pected to fetch a higher price this year as un­timely rains in March had re­duced yield. “But due to the

lock­down, very few traders are com­ing for­ward. Now its prices have plum­meted by over 30 per cent to just `10 a kg. Vol­ume of the trade has also come down,” says B B Panda of Foun­da­tion for Eco­log­i­cal Se­cu­rity, a non-profit that works on is­sues of liveli­hood. Many who have col­lected mahua de­spite the hard­ship are not able to sell it, he adds.

It’s un­for­tu­nate that the lock­down has co­in­cided with NTFP col­lec­tion pe­riod, says Chit­taran­jan Pani, co­or­di­na­tor for MFP Group, a na­tional level fo­rum on sus­tain­able for­est-based liveli­hood. Earn­ing dur­ing th­ese three to four months cater to their needs up to win­ter sea­son and par­tic­u­larly in the rainy sea­son when em­ploy­ment is hardly avail­able for them, Pani says.

NTFPs ac­count for 20-60 per cent of the in­come of In­dia’s 300 mil­lion for­est dwellers, says a 2011 Plan­ning Com­mis­sion work­ing group paper. The pro­duce is the only source of in­come for more than 600,000 peo­ple who live in for­est vil­lages and do not have a ra­tion or Aad­haar card to ben­e­fit from the govern­ment’s di­rect cash trans­fer or food re­lief through pub­lic dis­tri­bu­tion sys­tem.

The im­pact can be clearly seen on ground. In Ch­hat­tis­garh’s Gari­a­band district, Ka­mar tribal fam­i­lies de­pend on bam­boo, whose har­vest­ing starts in April and con­tin­ues till the on­set of mon­soon around June 15. Puri says each Ka­mar house­hold earns about `600 a week by sell­ing bam­boo and bam­boo prod­ucts like broom and bas­kets. “With mar­kets closed, they are now with­out in­come. Un­der the pan­demic re­lief pro­gramme, the state govern­ment has pro­vided them with two months worth of rice and salt. They are now sur­viv­ing on that,” he adds.

Though most house­holds have re­ceived `500 in their Jan Dhan ac­counts un­der the govern­ment’s pan­demic re­lief pack­age, most vil­lages do not have banks or ATMs in their vicin­ity. “Be­sides, they would want to pre­serve the cash to buy in­op­uts for the up­com­ing kharif sea­son as there is no other earn­ing now,” says Sree­tama Gupt­ab­haya, pro­gram co­or­di­na­tor, nat­u­ral re­source man­age­ment, Ox­fam In­dia.

SHIELDED FROM CRI­SIS Tendu is the only NTFP that ap­pears to be en­joy­ing a sta­ble mar­ket as it is mostly na­tion­alised and the col­lec­tion process is in­sti­tu­tion­alised, says Gupt­ab­haya. For­est De­vel­op­ment Cor­po­ra­tions col­lect tendu leaves through vil­lage-level col­lec­tion cen­tres and di­rectly pay the col­lec­tors. At places, where gram sab­has deal with traders, they en­ter into con­tracts with them and re­ceive pay­ments in ad­vance. “We sell tendu to our fixed traders,” says Dilip Gode, a com­mu­nity leader in Gad­chi­roli district of Ma­ha­rash­tra who is ac­tive in tendu trade. Gad­chi­roli is one of the few places where gram sab­has sell the leaf on their own. Gode says tendu leaves can be stored for over six months. “As a re­sult, the in­dus­try which is closed dur­ing the lock­down, is will­ing to buy and store the leaves, which is sea­sonal,” he says. Only its ex­ports to Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and West Asia have stopped.

The Cen­tre dur­ing the lock­down has urged state govern­ments to rely on two schemes to en­sure that com­mu­ni­ties re­ceive fair price for NTFPs: the min­i­mum sup­port price for mi­nor for­est pro­duce (MSP for MFP) and the Prad­han Mantri Van Dhan Yo­jna (PMVDY). But nei­ther has suf­fi­cient reach or mech­a­nism to pro­vide any mean­ing­ful respite.

MSP for MFP, launched in 2013 to en­sure fair price, has prac­ti­cally be­come de­funct over the years, says Pani. Though the scheme re­con­g­nises 50 NTFPs, till date only 23 have the fair av­er­age qual­ity pa­ram­e­ters needed for pro­cure­ment. The scheme has never ex­hausted its bud­get since in­cep­tion. In 2014-15, the Cen­tre spent `100 crore, which was less than a third of the scheme’s al­lo­ca­tion. “The Cen­tre has not re­leased data on the scheme since 2015-16, high­light­ing its ca­sual ap­proach to­wards the scheme. The pro­cure­ment cen­tres at the state level are also lim­ited,” he adds.

The sit­u­a­tion is no dif­fer­ent for PMVDY, launched in 2018 with the man­date of cre­at­ing 6,000 self-help groups in for­est vil­lages that will em­power the residents to process NTFPs and fetch bet­ter prices. “It has been im­ple­mented only in a few pock­ets and lacks the scale re­quired for the cur­rent cri­sis,” says Y Giri Rao of Va­sund­hara, a Bhubaneswa­r-based non-profit that works for de­vel­op­ment of tribal com­mu­ni­ties.

It seems, for­est dwellers could have been shielded in the cur­rent cri­sis had the govern­ment im­ple­mented NTFP schemes in earnest in the past. But as they say, it’s never too late.


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