At a time when local economies have been reeling under the lockdown necessitated by the COVID-19 pandemic, tribal communities residing in forests and on its fringes in Thiruvananthapuram are a relieved lot.
Embarking on a market intervention initiative to cushion the impacts of the slowdown, the Forest Department has begun to procure forest produce collected by the tribespeople of the Agasthyavanam Biological Park (ABP) and the Neyyar and Peppara forest ranges to be sold to commercial establishments and various collectives.
A centralised collection centre has been operationalised at Kottoor to segregate the produce prior to being transported to various places.
The endeavour has come as a blessing to several families that stared at an uncertain future following the suspension of village markets, particularly at Kottoor, which functioned as a local commercial hub in the region.
The ambitious project, Vanika, formally launched by Chief Wildlife Warden Surendrakumar a day ago, is being undertaken by procuring perishables above the prevailing market rates.
The produce on offer during the initial days included various plantain varieties including nendran, rasakadali and chenkadali (kappa pazham in local parlance), tapioca, long beans, wild honey, wild turmeric, areca nut, Malabar tamarind (kudampuli), cashew nuts and coconut. The produce are being marketed through a WhatsApp group that include entrepreneurs, social activists as well as techies’ collectives who can place bulk orders online. Buoyed by the initial response, the department is toying with the idea of extending the scheme to other tribal regions in the State.
According to Thiruvananthapuram Wildlife Warden J.R. Ani, forest officers have been entrusted with collecting the produce, even from far-flung areas on jeeps and boats. He added that the department also considered procuring rubber sheets from tribespeople to help them sustain their livelihood. Several women from tribal families have been engaged to prepare face masks in a stitching unit that has been established at Kottoor. Enquiries regarding the products’ sale can be directed to beat forest officer Gopika (8547602958).