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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.
The 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 of life.
photograph of Tamarind - a sweet apple smelling spice .
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