Adivasis heavily rely on forests is one fact that no one can deny.  Many landless Adivasis are unable to sustain themselves for more than 6 months after rains because of their reliance on single rain-fed crops. Since forests provide a range of uncultivated food sources such as vegetables, roots, tubers, flowers, fish, birds, red ants,  Adivasis heavily rely on these for their daily needs.  Besides resources of forest like gum, tendu pattas, mahua flowers, oilseeds are exchanged in barter for food grains or sold for a price from which they can purchase food grains.

On the other hand the forests provide herbal and traditional medicines (far superior to modern medicine) in the absence of the health care machinery; and free fruits, vegetables to take care of their nutrition in the absence of the fair public distribution system.   Firewood for cooking, stones to build wells and houses, fodder for animals, bark of trees for rope are some of the other requirements in daily life that are met by the forests.

The entire life and livelihood of Adivasis is based on forests. Where forests have been destroyed Adivasis have suffered.

Besides the above basic needs, in Adivasi economy, forests occupy a key position. There is huge potential for forest economy if handled well and its full control given to the Adivasis with government backing.  The Tamil Nadu government has been the first state government to transfer complete charge over Minor Forest Produce rights to tribals living in and around forests. It is hoped that other states follow soon.

This section attempts to put forth some of the issues pertaining to Adivasi livelihood and forest economy by providing you with some studies, reports on the issue.  A brief idea is also given about Adivasi co-operatives.

A] Minor forest produce market in India

• India has 16,000 recorded plant species. About 3,000 of these yield minor forest produce (MFP).
• Nearly 500 million people living in and around forests in India depend on MFP for sustenance and as a supplement to their income.
• Studies in Orissa, Madhya Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh and Bihar indicate that over 80 per cent of forest dwellers depend entirely on MFP; 17 per cent of landless people depend on the daily wage labour of collecting MFP; and 39 per cent of people are involved in MFP collection as a subsidiary occupation.
• MFP-based small-scale enterprises provide up to 50 per cent of income for 20-30 per cent of the rural labour force in India.
• 55 per cent of employment in the forestry sector is attributed to the MFP sub-sector.

B] Tendu Economy

The tendu tree (Diospyros melanoxylon) is found widely across central India. Leaves plucked from its shrubs are used to wrap bidi, the poor man's cigarette. About 550 billion pieces of bidi (rolled by 10 million people) are sold every year in India, according to the All India Bidi Industry Federation. Moreover, gathering tendu is labour-intensive and employs millions of tribals during the lean month of May, when they have very little else to earn from.

To read the comprehensive report [A and B] by "Down to Earth" magazine  click here. [ A must read]

Non-timber forest produce and Sanctuaries

The earlier Wild Life (Protection) Act, 1972 took a different approach: it allowed collection of ntfp from sanctuaries with the permission of the chief wildlife warden of the state. Even then, very few chief wildlife wardens across the country had the pluck to allow collection and sale of ntfp against the unwritten convention of the forest bureaucracy to deny all such rights to the people (traditional or not). In many sanctuaries, the collection continued unabated, though illegally.

To read more click here.

Wealth of forests - How should its tribal owners profit from it?

The gross tribal produce of Bastar is in excess of Rs 1,000 crore a year. Tribals, ‘owners’ of the minor forest produce — in terms of the Panchayat (Extension to Scheduled Areas) Act, 1996 — receive around 20 per cent of the value of their produce. 80 per cent passes on to the moneylender-middlemen-trader nexus. Van Dhan, or ‘wealth of the forests’, was a program conceived to make this predatory trade more equitable to the tribals...

To read more click here.

Tribal Forest Interface - Logic of Survival

The second vital issue in ensuring that the future of the tribals is intertwined with a sustain use of the forest resources and takes the symbiosis argument a step further, from survial with stewardship to development with stewardship is the issue of non timber forest produce (NTFP). It has now been well established that NTFP in the case of the tribals is not MFP (minor forest produce), it provides substantial sustenance to the tribals living on the fringe of standing forests. It is estimated that 70 % of NTFP is collected in 5 states i.e. Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Bihar, Orissa and Andhra Pradesh where 65 % of tribal population lives. NTFPs are important raw materials for cottage, small and village industries and contribute to the national income through export and import substitution.

To read more click here.

Adivasi forest alienation = Starvation.

...collection of NTFP from the sanctuary area was stopped, citing the Supreme Court directive. Soon, starvation deaths began to be reported in the media. The Supreme Court then directed the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) to conduct a fact-finding enquiry and it was established that lack of livelihood was the main reason for starvation in the region. The Supreme Court specifically ordered the special rapporteur to "supervise government wage employment programmes to ensure continuous livelihood options to the poor to avoid starvation deaths". Although the programmes were speeded up, they were not enough. The tribals depend on NTFP for survival because livelihood options in the region are limited, especially during the lean season.

To read more click here.

Forest belongs to whom?

Question:  Forest belongs to Whom?
Answer:    To the Government

Question:  To whom did they belong earlier?
Answer:    The Zamindar

Question:  And before them?....

To read more click here.


(Source: Tribal Ecohealth. A report available with CED. No - R.E23d.6)

Largesized Agricultural Multipurpose Society (lamps)

LAMPS was formed in 1977, when it was realised that Adivasis were not fully enjoying the fruits of their labour in forest produced collection. Many of the existing Primary Agricultural Co-operative Societies (PACS) were converted into LAMPS and new ones started in areas where non existed.  More than 50 % of LAMPS members are tribals. According to the declared objectives, the LAMPS have to:

Although the LAMPS began as part of a great co-operative movement, at present most LAMPS are defunct. The reasons cited were shortage of funds for business operations, lack of managerial ability and of infrastructural facilities like storage and transport and inadequate finances.

The Tribal Co-operative Marketing Development Federation of India (TRIFED)

Under the Ministry of Social Welfare, TRIFED was set up at the national level in August 1987 as an apex body of the Forest Corporation and the forest produce co-operatives under the Multi State Co-operative Societies Act, 1984.  When established, TRIFED was meant to support the co-operatives and corporations by finding proper market for NTFP and Surplus Agricultural Produce (SAP) collected by Adivasis, especially across states and countries.   The declared objectives according to information obtained from TRIFED are:

The members of TRIFED are the Tribal Co-operative federations, organisations dealing with NTFP, the government, the National Co-operative Development Corporation and the National Agricultural Co-operative Marketing Federation.

Most of the efforts of promotion of co-operatives amongst the tribals have been a dismal failure for two reasons:

- The co-operatives have been primarily under the control of the trading community, who are mainly non-tribals
- The co-operatives were never linked with the restoration and protection of the culture and environment of the tribals.

To know more about the TRIFED visit:

Tribal Development Cooperative Corporations (TDCCs)

Tribal Development Cooperatives have their headquarters in the state capital and function primarily through the sub-divisional offices and branch offices.  When launched, the objectives of TDCC were to purchase Surplus Agricultural Produce (SAP) and Minor Forest Produce (MFP) at fair and reasonable prices and to supply essential commodities and other consumer goods at fair prices through its fair-price shops under the Public Distribution System.

However the government royalties were so high that TDCC could not give remunerative price to the Tribals. Market competition is another reason for the inefficiency of the TDCC.  Private business persons buy the tribal produce by paying prices higher than what the TDCC can afford.  In many cases, the tribals are forced to sell their produce to these agents due to debt bondage.

Recommended readings for this entire section:

1.. Tribal Ecohealth, 1994.                                                 CED - R.E23d.6      [A must read!]

2.. Dependence of Tribals on Forests, 1989                       CED - B.E23d.T1      [A must read!]

3.. Tribal Women and Forest Dweller Economy, 1988.      CED - R.E23d.8

4.. Conserving Life, Implications of the Biodiversity 
Convention for India.                                                         CED - R.E20.11    [A must read]