Chief Minister V.S. Achuthanandan said here on Thursday that the participation and intervention of forest-dependent communities had checked the exploitation of forests and its natural resources in the State.

Speaking after inaugurating the Kerala Sate Forest Development Agency (KSFDA), Mr. Achuthanandan said it would work towards poverty alleviation of forest-dwelling communities besides coordinating forest conservation activities.

“In the last few years, we have been able to increase our forest cover by three per cent. The contribution of forest dwelling tribal communities in achieving this is huge. The State government has taken up a number of initiatives for the welfare of tribal communities, including distribution of land, free treatment in hospitals and insurance policies against attack from wild animals,'' he said.

Forest Minister Benoy Viswom, who presided over the function, said the KSFDA would focus on participatory forest conservation.

Vanasree outlets

“The KSFDA will also streamline the activities of Eco Development Committees (EDCs) and Vana Samrakshana Samithies (VSSs). This will include scientific collection, processing, value-addition and sales of non-wood forest products which will be sold under the brand name Vanasree. An outlet of Vanasree products will be opened at the Forest Department Headquarters here by next week,'' he said.

Similar outlets, selling products like honey, spices and herbal products, would also be opened in eco tourism centres across the State.

Mr. Viswom urged bottled water manufacturing companies to emulate the Forest Department's initiative of buying empty plastic bottles from the consumers at the cost of Rs.1, in an effort to check plastic waste pollution at Sabarimala.

“The Forest Department, which is supplying the Vanasree product Sabari Theertham bottled drinking water at Sabarimala, has taken up this initiative to curb plastic waste pollution in the forest pilgrim centre. Private bottled water manufacturing companies must also follow this example and use a small part of their profit for such environment initiatives,'' he said.

V. Sivankutty, MLA; Mayor Jayan Babu, Principal Chief Conservator of Forest T.M. Manoharan and councillor Rakhi Ravikumar were also present at the function.

An exhibition of Vanasree products, manufactured and processed by various EDCs across the State, was also organised as part of the function.