Training for Income Generation
Along with making rural and adivasi communities aware of their legal rights and entitlements over land, seeds, natural resources and indigenous knowledge, Gene Campaign also builds skills and capabilities of farmers, women and local youth by training them on ways to generate income using locally available bio-resources.
Adivasi and remote rural communities have from generations sourced their fuel, fodder, food and allied incomes from the forests and natural resources. But the threat to this symbiotic existence comes with every new generation that considers traditional practices and knowledge as backward especially when compared to immensely better packed goods and lifestyles that the youth are continually being exposed to.
Gene Campaign is working with communities to underline the self-reliance and dignity that income from better use and management of bioresources can bring to the communities. It highlights facts such as most of the community’s health and food needs come from the land, the trees and the animals in the eco-system around them, and for which they do not have to pay for. That the fruits, spices, herbs and flowers of the forests bring them seasonal incomes (though not much in their raw processed forms) without any capital investment. That people pay high prices in the market for products derived from forest bio-resources so it is time for the community to recognize the potential of their bioresources. That the community must actively learn to add value to their products to get higher and assured incomes. That considerable incomes can be generated from indigenous knowledge based applications such as the sale of vermicompost for agriculture, of herbal medicines for treatment of common ailments, etc.
That they can avoid migrating to towns in distress if bio-resource processing is developed with an industry footing in their areas improving employment opportunities and incomes.
1) Improving Incomes based on bio-resources
The first step in this activity was to document local bioresources and the indigenous knowledge associated with it. Details such as, rainfall, water availability for summer and winter crops, cropping and crop choices, crop diversity and seed availability, income opportunities, availability of bioresources and forest produce for commercialisation, agencies that harvesting, selling and buying forest produce, etc were recorded.
Based on the documentation of available bioresources and their uses, GC developed its next intervention for the community – that of processing and adding value to these resources after they are harvested. The intention was to make the selling of this produce more lucrative for the communities and also ensure that the resources were used optimally, conserved and propagated for continued and future use.
Training in harvesting, processing and value addition to forest produce: Gene Campaign is training communities in scientific methods of harvesting forest produce and processing bio resources so that the raw material collected is of a consistent quality, and that raw / immature produce is not wasted but protected for a later harvest.
As part of its harvesting training farmers learn how not to damage the entire plant while collecting the part of interest, how to collect the part interest carefully without uprooting the entire plant, how to leave enough plants for regeneration, how to identify immature plants and keep them safe from harvesting, how to harvest fruit carefully so as not to bruise it and cause it to spoil, how to sort the collection by discarding infected spoilt parts / fruits; cleaning them, grading them according to size (for example amla), sun drying them to add shelf life. This is followed weighing and clean packaging so the produce is ready to be bought at the market.
Some categories of raw produce such as tamarind, Amra, Jackfruit, Mango, Tubers, Aamla, Bamboo, Jamun and Lemon are processed into ready to eat food such as pickles, jams, jellies, murabba and squash. The training for food processing and value addition is also given by Gene Campaign. Food processing brings in more incomes compared to the sale of raw forest produce. This training is usually given to groups such as self-help groups.
Setting up farmer-friendly marketing links: The usual precedence at local markets to sell forest and agriculture produce is that local traders buy them from individual farmers in their raw form and at very low rates. Then, after minor value addition at the traders end re-sell it to manufacturers of bioresource-based products at very high rates.
Adivasis sell their produce in the weekly market, to the local ‘Aadhti’, the trader who offers many services, especially loans. These traders have a big hold on the Adivasis because they are usually the sole source of credit in the area. As a result they are reluctant to defy the trader or sell their produce elsewhere because of their monetary dependence on the trader. A nexus between the forest department and the traders enables the trader to emerge as the only buyer even when the forest department is supposed to buy. And unfortunately, the Tribal Cooperative Marketing Development Federation of India Limited (TRIFED), which was set up to promote the commercialisation of products in the tribal belt is disorganised, often refuses to buy the produce and when it does, offers very low prices.
It is Gene Campaign’s intention to partner with likeminded NGOs and institutions to provide a strong and sustained support to develop value added products and independent marketing links so that the adivasi can sell products independent of the local traders and middlemen.
To assist groups to market the raw/ processesed forest produce Gene Campaign is in the process of setting up a venture with the help of a national pharmaceutical brand that produces products based on herbs – Zandu Pharmaceuticals. The venture train local women in first and second degree processing of gums, resins and medicinal plants to increase their shelf life and add value and thereby be more readily picked up from the market by pharma / ayurvedic companies.
2) Empowering women through self help groups (SHGs)
Work on organizing SHGs began as a response to women’s demand that be trained to do something independently, and with which they can improve household incomes. Given that women in most communities bear the brunt of running households as well as help in farming and forest produce collection, many approached Gene Campaign to help set up a forum for discussion, action and income generation that would be responsive to their needs. Gene Campaign helped women set up Self Help Groups at different locations. And apart from being a forum to discuss issues that impact them, women have also begun their own savings programmes from which they can borrow money in times of need.
To enhance their income generation capabilities Gene Campaign trains women groups in
processing forest produce and locally available fruits and vegetables, organic agriculture based on biofertilisers and biopesticides, agrobiodiversity conservation, making simple herbal formulations, and to identify and use locally available foods to maintain their and their’s family’s health and nutrition.
At various location many SHGs have set up small enterprises where they manufacture and sell of vermicompost, keep bees and sell honey, maintain poultry for eggs and meat, keep cows for milk and dung, produce natural detergents, bamboo baskets, savoury eatables, pickles and organic vegetables.