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Chhattisgarh to spend Rs 225 crore to buy forest produce from tribals, bypass middle-men

State government hopes the decision will end middle-men monopoly on the procurement process, and provide a sustainable income for the tribals amid Covid-19 crisis. 

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Raipur: The Chhattisgarh government is set to implement a Rs 225-crore plan this fiscal year to directly buy minor forest produce (MFP) from the state’s tribals, the chief of a tribal welfare body has told ThePrint. 

According to Sanjay Shukla, managing director, Chhattisgarh State Minor Forest Produce Cooperative Federation, the state government hopes that the measure will end the monopoly of middle-men in the procurement process, and provide a sustainable income for tribals in the midst of the economic slowdown due to Covid-19. 

“The government is buying the produce directly from the collectors. Earlier, it used to procure the minor forest produce with the help of agents,” Shukla said. “Women self-help groups from the state are now playing a big role as they have been tasked with door-to-door collection of forest produce and then depositing them at the central government’s collection centres.”

He said the decision will practically end the monopoly of agents, locally known as Kochia. “The villagers are likely to get an additional profit of up to Rs 350 crore. Direct purchase by the government has also forced the Kochias to pay more to the villagers in order to remain competitive,” he added. 

Shukla further said that the government has also decided to pay an additional dividend of 5-10 per cent over and above the Minimum Support Price (MSP) that the central government has set for forest produce in the 2020-21 fiscal year. 

The decision is expected to benefit over 14 lakh tribals in the state. 

Also read: With 70% skilled labour gone, Chhattisgarh industries will struggle to resume work

Part of tribal relief measures

Chhattisgarh Forest Minister Mohammad Akbar told the media that the effort is part of relief measures for tribals affected by the Covid-19 lockdown. “In this hour of economic crisis caused by the Corona lockdown, the forest dwellers and villagers of Vananchal region are getting a lot of relief from the state government’s initiative to procure minor forest produce at the extended support price and the cash payment process attached with it,” he said. 

He added that the Congress government has been working towards strengthening the economic condition of the state’s tribals.  

“Between 2015 and 2018, only seven minor forest produce were being procured at the minimum support price (MSP),” he said. “Within two years of coming to power, the current government has increased the number of minor forest produce covered under MSP to 25. This has been done keeping in mind the interest of the villagers.”

Minor forest produce are mainly non-timber forest products that are gathered by the tribals. They include leaves, gum, waxes, dyes, resins, wild fruits, honey, lac, bamboo canes and other forms of food.  

Some MFPs from Chhattisgarh incorporated in the Centre’s MSP list include tamarind seeds, mahua seeds, jamun seeds, karanj seeds, Giloi, sal seeds and chiraunji seeds among others. 

While the Centre sets the MSP, state agencies carry out procurement process. 

Also read: Bastar has remained Covid-free. That’s because social distancing is tribal norm, experts say

An unprecedented decision 

According to Arun Kumar Pandey, former general manager of the state Wildlife and State Forest Corporation, the decision to pay the additional dividend is unprecedented.  

“For the first time in the history of the state, the state government has added its own dividend to the new support prices of minor forest produce announced by the central government,” he said. “With this step, collectors (of MFP) in tribal areas are expected to benefit greatly during this crisis of Corona.”

Pandey added that the state can achieve its target. 

“The state government can realistically achieve its record procurement target of minor forest produce because the forest department is under immense pressure to run an intensive procurement campaign under the currently prevailing circumstances,” he said. “Apart from this, for the first time, the field staff and officers making purchases are being constantly and closely monitored.”

According to Pandey, in this procurement season, which began on 1 May, the Chhattisgarh government has so far accounted for over 90 per cent of the total MFP procurement in the country.

Chhattisgarh contributes 90% of national MFP procurement

The state government has so far contributed to over 90 per cent of the MFP produce in the country. 

According to data released by the central government’s Tribal Cooperative Marketing Development Federation of India (TRIFED), up until four days ago, Chhattisgarh had contributed Rs 28 crore of the total Rs 30 crore worth MFP procured across the country. 

The remaining states put together had only contributed Rs 2 crore. 

According to the latest data with the state government, it has procured 9,563 MT of MFP, worth Rs 28 crore, from 1,66,000 collectors in the state.   

According to forest departmental officials, the state government’s MFP procurement target of Rs 225 crore is itself a significant increase from the Rs 190 crore in 2019-20.

Apart from this, the state government has also set a target of procuring tendu leaves — used in the manufacture of beedi — worth Rs 649 crore in 2020-21. In 2019-20, this figure was Rs 603 crores.

“Total potential of the forest produce business in the state is in excess of Rs 1000 crore,” said agricultural scientist and a resident of Bastar, Dr. Tushar. “If the government remains sincerely committed to the economic benefits and public welfare of the forest dwellers, then our villagers will not be required to migrate to find work.” 

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