Widespread poverty existed amongst the forest based tribal communities in the Aruku valley and the adjoining forest area of Andhra Pradesh state in southern India. In spite of dwelling in a forest range with rich biodiversity most of these tribal communities were unable to utilize the Non Timber Forest Products (NTFPs) to augment their livelihood base.
Bereft of proper welfare services of the State since generations, because of the inaccessible terrain (ranges between 700 and 900 meters above mean sea level) the tribals languished with very low Human Development Indices. Quantitatively, NTFPs here have always been ample for the use of the communities but the State had never earnestly attempted to mobilize the people to utilize the same for improving their livelihood by accessing the market. Weak collectivization process of the communities stemmed from the apathy of the understaffed forest department. This had resulted in low knowledge and skill of the forest dependent community to utilize the surplus NTFPs for economic gains.
A process (called the Action Oriented Learning) has been on since 2002 to mobilize the community in 3600 habitations to carry out microplanning exercises. This has been a tool for the communities to identify their priorities, the resources and look for means to address their short- and long-term needs. During this process apart from other issues, the community discusses issues of availability of specific NTFPs (of a season), the ongoing prices, the marketing avenues and gets to a common consensus to collectively trade in specific NTFPs. The accompanying social mobilization and capacity building processes have empowered them with information regarding the collection, value addition and the forward linkages.
Currently tribals in 3600 habitations of this forested area trade in various NTFPs. The State run Co-operative is the primary buyer. There is least dependency on ‘external’ middlemen. The local NGOs and CBOs of the village form the vital link and there has been a sea change in the livelihood base of these forest-based communities. Not only has borrowing from moneylenders decreased, but out-migration to urban areas during the lean period has also fallen drastically.
P K Nanda and B Mohanty
Sustainable Tribal Empowerment Project, CARE-India, Andhra Pradesh, India