Scarcity of forest produce: Tribal villages stare at poverty

Scarcity of forest produce: Tribal villages stare at poverty
Tribals collecting forest produce from a forest area.

Seethathodu: The acute scarcities of forest produce in the forest areas are hitting hard the tribal villages that depend upon the collection of these produce as a means of livelihood.

Faced with the shortage of forest produce and the resulting penury, the tribal people are requesting the Scheduled Tribes Development Department to start employment opportunities based at Gudrikkal Range Office that would ensure some kind of permanent source of income for them.

Around 100 tribal families are residing in the forest areas including Lahai, Plappally, Nilakkal, Attathodu, Chalakkayam, Veluthodu, Moozhiyar, Kakki and Gavy falling under the Ranni Forest Division and Periyar Tiger Reserve. The only source of income for these families has been the collecting of cane from the forest.

Even though the tribal people have the permission to collect forest produce, they cannot depend upon that as a source of income due to the increasing scarcity of the produce, the tribals point out. Most of the families have at least five members including children. The provisions distributed through the ration shops under the public distribution system often could not meet the needs of the families. They also complain that the Tribal Welfare Department hardly extends a supporting hand. Only after making complaints for a long time that the Department takes any action, complains the tribal people.

The tribal people are given the permission to catch fish from the reservoirs of the Sabarigiri Hydro Electric Project, but the middle men turn out to be the actual beneficiaries of these permits. The middlemen are yet to pay thousands of rupees to the tribal people as payment for the catch of fish sold to them. They are not also able to sustain the catching of fish in the absence of proper guidelines. In case they could be given the training to make cane products, that could ensure a steady income. The project can be made successful as cane is available from the Gudrikkal Range.

The tribal people are also showing a keen interest in learning the cane craft. Certain villages have a tradition of working with cane which they have been continuing for generations. At present, the cane taken from Ranni Forest Division are taken to Parakkott at Adoor, for making products. The difficulty in ensuring a fair price for the forest produce, which they collect battling many odds, is also affecting the tribal people.

Though some societies have come forward to collect the forest produce, the tribal people face further exploitation as some of them ditch making a fair payment. They point out that the outside buyers are often ready to give a better price than that of the society. Giving contract works for the tribal people at the Forest Department could also provide a support to them.