Kerala tribals make use of forest products, export to cities to earn livelihood

With support from River Research Centre, Vazhachal tribal communities are putting indigenous forest products to use
Tailoring workshop organised for Kadar community
Tailoring workshop organised for Kadar community

KOCHI: Despite being the first tribal settlement in Kerala to have received the community forest rights, Vazhachal tribal communities did not know how to make use of the indigenous forest products. Other than using the products for personal needs, they were not skilled enough to earn a livelihood out of it. However, with the support of Thrissur-based NGO ‘River Research Centre’, the tribal women of Kadar, Muthuvar and Malayar communities now know how to utilise these sustainably. Currently, their products have reached many major cities including Bengaluru.

“Though they had the right to use the forest produce, they lacked a clear vision to exercise their rights. And we want them to assert their rights,” said Manju Vasudevan, a member of River Research Centre. For the past three years, Manju Vasudevan and Jipsa Jagadeesh have been coordinating the activities of the communities.

Women from three villages are part of this local enterprise that makes indigenous products such as wild food preserves, pickles, bamboo baskets, cloth bags, jute accessories and beeswax cosmetics. The idea behind the collective is to promote sustainable livelihood by incorporating non-conventional ideas. Though some of the groups have been doing these before, the collective has introduced contemporary techniques to them so that their products receive more market value.

“They might be weaving the same baskets during festivals but many do not realise the fact that they can bring in more profit on other days as well. So, we have trained them in colour techniques to improvise the product. The design value of the product increases when we bring some changes,” added Manju.

While Muthuvar community weaves bamboo baskets, Kadar community is into tailoring, macrame jewellery making and Malayars concentrate on wild food products. However, they work in their comfort and convenience. The main aim of the project is to secure the tribal livelihoods without having to isolate them from their roots.

Also, the project has now brought in changes in the lives of the communities, especially women. “There was a time when the women refused to keep money in hand as they did not know how to handle it. But, now they are capable of decision making, have opened bank accounts, become more disciplined and have got a sense of work. They also conduct workshops and craft classes at schools and this brings a sense of satisfaction in them,” she said.

According to them, the biggest challenge they had to face was developing a relationship with the community. Listening to them and their needs is more important than providing things which they do not need.

Manju Vasudevan says partnership plans with Better India and Kudumbashree are on cards. “Receiving an order from Lumiere Organic Store, Bengaluru, itself is a great achievement for us,” she added. The project will soon introduce community development sessions and seed jewellery making too.

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The New Indian Express