Deep in the dry tropical forest of the foothills
of the Nilgiri Mountains in the State of Tamil Nadu, adivasi (tribal)
communities have lived for generations, gathering and selling non-timber
products such as tamarind, gooseberries, honey, soap nuts and moss.
These people have always been very poor, but in recent years their
situation has got worse. Since Independence in 1947 the government
has been protecting large areas of forest and, to raise money from
them, they started auctioning licences to harvest the non-timber
products. These licences nearly always went to commercial companies
who then employed adivasis at pittance wages. They encouraged the
gatherers to take as much of a particular produce as possible, with
no concern for future harvests.
For many years an organisation called MYWA had been working with
adivasis to help them improve their lives and gain their rights.
In 1997 they won the licence, with help from a UK charity called
Find Your Feet (FYF), using money from the National Lottery and
the British Government. FYF also helped the adivasis to acquire
a drying room and scales to improve their production and packing
techniques and a vehicle for collecting produce from the villages.
5,249 families share the work and the profits. The drying,
processing and packing is done by the elderly who can no longer
go into the forest to gather produce. Local men and women
are being trained in management skills. The adivasis are now
collecting from the forest in their traditional way, taking
only what they need and preserving the source for future years.
At the same time, the use of the new technology allows them
to earn reasonable money to supplement their subsistence way
Tamarind - a cooking spice
with a distinctive sweet smell like apples