The Tagore Theatre grounds wore a festive look on Thursday morning. Hundreds of citizens thronged the stalls to view and buy a range of products collected and packaged by tribals from forests across the State.

The exhibition-cum-sale of Vanasree products, manufactured and processed by various Eco Development Committees (EDCs), was organised as part of the inauguration of the Kerala Forest Development Agency.

Wild honey, bathing scrubs, perfumed oils and spices were seen to be in high demand.

“We realise the forest-dwellers can protect the forest best,” said Sukesan, a Deputy Ranger from Thenmala. “So we teach them sustainable exploitation techniques so as not to exhaust the resources of a particular area.”

“We have collected Rs.50,000 already,” said District Forest Officer T. Pradeep Kumar adding that “all the money goes to the tribals through the Vana Samrakshana Samithis.”

The tribals used to sell honey to middlemen for Rs.10 per kg, often simply trading it for alcohol or tobacco. “We are teaching them to add value, and now they get Rs.120 per kg.”

In return, the tribals helped in protecting endangered species. The number of poaching offences across the State had come down more than half in the last five years, he said.

Officials said they were not concerned about the growing number of tourists visiting the natural wonders of the Western Ghats. Instead, they were promoting tourism in the region. Safari vests, hats and other trinkets lined many of the stalls. “As long as it is ecologically sound, tourism should be promoted to further bolster the local economy,” they said.

The agency has plans to sell products like eucalyptus, beeswax balm and ‘kasthuri manjal' through government shops in major tourist destinations in the State. It also hopes to set up stalls during festivals. Ayurvedic drug manufacturing is another proposal.