The premise of our work with indigenous communities is the Athirappilly struggle against a 7th dam on Chalakudy River in Kerala. The proposed HE Project would submerge/ divert 140 ha of rainforests which also happens to be the ancestral domain of the Kadar (the oldest of our indigenous people) and other tribes in the region. In May 2014, the Kadars living in this region area were granted recognition under the FRA. The gram sabhas (village councils) received Community Forest Resources Rights (CFR) titles over an approximate area of 40,000 hectares.
At RRC, we felt there is need for CFR related advocacy work. In 2016, we began working on public awareness on CFR in tourism zones around the river and started creating economic benefits to local people based on wild resources that they depend on. This way their rights would be asserted, and they would become true stewards of the forest.
The focus of our engagement is on skill development to enhance NTFP flows (of common and non-conventional NTFPs) through self-help women’s collectives. We also hope to address deeper issues of gender and equality through creating confidence building and decision-making spaces. The work is in its 5th year.
SKILL DEVELOPMENT, VALUE ADDITION AND PRODUCT DIVERSIFICATION:
In Karikadav, three non-conventional NTFPS (Cycas, Wild Grape and Shatavari) were processed and value added with the help of harvesters from the neighbouring Kadar village. One new beeswax moisturizer was developed using Hemp seed oil from Uttarakhand, and one new beeswax soap variety was introduced with fresh Aloe vera pulp in it.
In Vazhachal, a Jamun (Njaval) juice festival was organised where Kadar women made direct sales of Jamun Sherbet to tourists. In Adichilthotti, the basketry work continued with a few design inputs. In Anapandam Kadar village, macrame jewellery making progressed. Training was offered by Bhoomi College Bangalore on making chemical free cleaning liquid based on a bioezyme formula (citrus peel and jaggery) using a fermentation process. The women have taken responsibility to take the necessary steps to get the final product Bio Clean.
ENGAGING WITH TRIBAL YOUTH AND WOMEN ON FOREST ACCESS
Contact was made directly with NTFP harvesters in Kadar ad Malayar villages, and aspects of distribution, seasonality and their traditional rights discussed. Sustainable harvest protocol was followed to ensure that nothing was over-harvested from the wild populations by NTFP collectors. We also tried to ensure that any non-conventional NTFP first meets the local nutrition requirements of the harvester’s family before being sent for value addition. Fair prices were given to NTFP harvesters.