Non-Timber Forest Products Exchange Programme

Women and NTFPs, Livelihood and Management Issues in the Western Ghats, India

October 21, 2007

by Narasimha Hegde, Appiko Prakruti

“We obtain three-fourths of our income from NTFPs,” Ms. Subbi Gowda, a tribal NTFP collector said without wavering. Appiko-Prakruti’s decade-long study and sharing knowledge with local communities also revealed the same. In Uttara Kannada district, Karnataka state of India, forest dwelling communities earned a maximum of 95 percent of total income and an average 33 percent income from NTFPs. However, with the loss of habitat; overharvesting and limited knowledge regarding harvest, process, market, policy and cultivation aspects; the resource is depleting and collectors are not getting desired benefits.

As an alternate to conventional development activities Prakruti is promoting the sustainable use and development of NTFPs together with the forest dwelling communities.
Activities include resource mapping, nursery raising, cultivation, enterprise development and promotion of sustainable use of the resources.

Remote sensing and Geographic Information System
Remote sensing is the instrumentation, techniques and methods to observe the earth’s surface at a distance and to interpret the images or numerical values obtained in order to acquire meaningful information of particular objects on earth.

Geographic information is required for planning and management purposes of our infrastructure and natural resources. According to a FAO study, no country has carried out a complete assessment/inventory on the status of NTFP resources. Perhaps our study is the first attempt in the entire country to adopt a focused approach to map the resources using state-of-the-art technology and relates it with the issues on livelihood and gender. Extensive field work and mapping provided valuable information on status of various NTFPs, crucial limitations with respect to harvest, process, marketing and policy issues and to set the priorities for interventions.

Emphasis on women groups
Many NTFP production to consumption systems involve women, many times in a leading role. Most examples in this study showed clear division of tasks by gender within systems. The study seeks to make a special emphasis on the role that women play through the entire process of NTFP collection, processing, consumption, sale/marketing and income generation. It was identified that women are the major contributors in collection and processing of NTFPs. Women and children are involved to a greater extent than men in activities such as peeling, de-husking, descending, cleaning, drying, salting and packing in bags or gunny bags. While men emphasized the income they earned from selling it; the women spoke more about how they could use it at home. However, those NTFPs, which do not have commercial importance, are left out for the women to deal with them.

In marketing of NTFPs, women seem to participate only to a limited extent. Most of the women (from the lower economic classes) say that they do not venture into the markets, as they do not have any idea of markets by themselves. Most of the selling that women do is in the village itself. They sell handmade mats and brooms to people who come to buy them in the villages. Another way is by exchange or barter; some women also carry these items when they go to visit their relatives and give them in exchange for old clothes. Now we have prioritized the products exclusively collected and processed by women and in a sustainable way, thus improving their skill and capacities to manage these resources.

Product development
We have started product development based on the information gathered through resource mapping. For example, fruit rind of Garcinia gummigutta is harvested to extract the Hydroxy Citric Acid (HCA), which is said to have obesity controlling properties. Due to increased industrial demand price of rind and because of competition among the collectors, collectors have been harvesting unscientifically.

On the other hand, according our study it requires 22 kilograms of fuel wood to obtain one kilogram of fruit rind as the fruiting occurs in monsoon. Now we have installed fuel-efficient driers in the highly concentrated Garcinia areas in which only 4 kilograms of fuel wood is sufficient to obtain one kilogram of dry rind. Instead of fuel wood from the forest, collectors can use agriculture waste in these installed units.

We have started producing the butter from seeds (seed is rich in edible fat by up to 30%) by installing oil extracting units with women groups. This helped to promote sustainable use of the resource as no cutting of branches or trees and unripe fruits is involved – only the seed from the fallen fruits have to be harvested. This also helps increase the cash income of economically marginalized groups especially women of indigenous communities.

Vinegar, pickles and extracting of HCA from fruit juice are also being experimented on.

To reduce pressure on forests and to increase the cash income of collectors we are promoting domestication of NTFP species and cultivation in Village Forest Committee areas. Farmers and collectors are cultivating in a small scale and many times they fail to select superior types. Now we are involved in identifying the superior types, standardizing the nursery techniques and cultivation practices.

Sustainable harvest and Community management
In order to bring sustainable harvest practices and community management several workshops were held from grassroot level to national level. It also provided an opportunity for collectors to interact with NGOs, the State Forest Department, scientists and traders. To strengthen capacity of these groups’ exposure visits, training workshops and regular meetings are organised.

With this, we aim sustainable use of the resources, stable market and assured price for the products and finally improve the livelihood conditions of poor forest dwelling communities.

CONTACT: Narasimha Hegde Appiko-Prakruti
Hulemalgi Building
Chowkinath, Sirsi, Karnataka
581401 India