For many tribal communities in Western Ghats, it’s the season for ponamboo and kudampuli, minor forest produce (MFP) that sustain them once the wild honey harvest ends.
But this year they are seeing a decline in availability, and the dip is not restricted to any single forest produce. “In some parts of the forest, trees are not blooming well and the yield is very low. The last wild honey season was also poor and now we are forced to walk farther into the forest in search of products with commercial value. This is creating difficulties to our community since many of us are forest-dependent,” says Santhosh, a tribal and executive committee member of Vana Samrakshana Samithi (VSS) from Achencoil.
While the forest dwellers are alarmed by the development and its impact on their earnings, experts say unsustainable extraction practices can be the main reason. After a quantifying study of resources indicated a declining trend, Kerala Forest Research Institute (KFRI) had launched an augmentation programme with the aid of National Medicinal Plants Board (NMPB). A total of 19,000 seedlings of 10 different species were planted in Vazhachal Forest Division and training was impaired to tribals to curb unscientific extraction methods. While wild nutmeg is harvested for seed aril, short viability of the seeds is another reason for poor regeneration. “After collecting kudambuli they take the rind and discard the seed. As a result the seed hardly gets deposited in its natural habitat inside the forest and no germination process takes place. In the case of wild nutmeg varieties, the seed and aril are used as spice,” says Dr. P. A. Jose, Principal Scientist, Sustainable Forest Management Division, Kerala Forest Research Institute (KFRI).
He adds that species like marotti (Oken) are already part of the IUCN Red List and if the over exploitation and other unsustainable practices continue, there will be consequences. “Without proper conservation measures many other species will also make their way to the list within next twenty years.”
From ‘soapinkaya’ and ‘vayambu’ to ‘thakara veru’ and ‘pachotti tholi’, the tribals collect a wide range of products, including division-specific ones. Conservation is hardly a concern for many as competition forces them to harvest the crop even before it attains full maturity. According to tribals, despite the extra effort and risk involved in the precarious expeditions, the price they receive remains a pittance. Now many people have stopped venturing into the forest and the groups with no experts make the trips less productive. According to Forest officials, the Department has taken all measures to control the exploitation of middlemen and procure maximum produce. “We have opened collection units inside the forests to streamline the procurement and very soon the prices will be revised,” says a senior official.