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Forest landscapes of the southern western Ghats, India

B.R. Ramesh
Rajan Gurukkal

Part II. Analysing The Landscape: The Anamalai Region (Nelliyampathi Hills)

7. Resources in the Forest Landscape: Availability, Utilisation and Sustainability

M. Amruth, Rajan Gurukkal et P.V. Karunakaran

Texte intégral

1Origins of the resource perception on the forests may be traced back to premodern period, but an intensive scheme of forest management for explicit extractive use is a modern phenomenon. Our current imaginations of the forests are not free from the legacy left behind by the colonial forestry. In recent years ideas of forest have been reconfigured as less resource oriented. However, a closer examination of the terminologies of this genre of rhetoric, for instance biodiversity, would reveal elements of utilitarian rationality. Recent discussions on the emerging regime of participatory forest management are centred on the benefit sharing and incentives, explicitly regarding forests as a space of resources. This paper seeks to review the nature of resource availability, modes of extraction, implications of collection practices on the carrying capacity and possible institutional linkages for achieving sustainability. Patterns of extraction and marketing of resources are traced at the landscape level. In order to effectively address the sustainability of resource use, spatial and temporal patterns of extraction and possible strategies of institutionalisation are explored.

2The issue of sustainability is closely associated with the reproductive ecology of the resource species and anthropology of extractive dependency. Market behaviour, investment patterns, risk aversion strategies, seasonality and mode of collection are just a few among the numerous factors, which have a bearing on the sustainability. In this paper, two features, ecology of the species and anthropology of resources are combined to explain patterns of extraction and factors of sustainability. Institutions are inevitable devices for coordinating the individual expectations about extraction and the collective desire for ensuring sustainability. The forthcoming section focuses on this crucial issue and possible strategies of institutional development.


3The preparation of a detailed inventory has been carried out to sketch current patterns and agents of resource use across the space and time in the landscape ecosystem. This is achieved by analysing the information on the spatial and temporal patterns of resource extraction. Resourcefulness of the landscape is explored by consulting a GIS compatible database on vegetation of the landscape. Patterns of extraction and the institutional practices are derived out of a fairly exhaustive ethnographic documentation. Suitability of the current practices is assessed with insights derived from the reproductive ecology of NWFP species. The sustainability of institutions is investigated in the light of political theory by assessing their performances. Information on the above is collected by reviewing management plans, annual reports, lease agreements and contracts. Firsthand information on the adherence to rules of collection and mode of functioning was collected by direct observation in the field.

Resource potential of different vegetations

  • 1 Wealth of India various volumes.

4Knowledge on potential resource value is a prerequisite for devising strategies for sustainability. As the resource use practices vary from species to species, information on the composition of the vegetation complex is an imperative in strategic planning. Three kinds of resource values, medicinal (MED), non-wood (NWFP) and timber (TFP) are attributed to the species. About three fourth of the flowering plants in Kerala have potential resource value (Puspangadan, 1997). Out of 1835 species recorded from the study area 637 are known to possess resource value1. Out of this many species have multiple use value. The species with potential medicinal, non- timber and timber values accounts 487 (27 %), 441 (24 %), and 176 (9 %) respectively (Table 7.1). The category TFP includes species used for making agricultural implements (71 species), furniture (104 species), softwood (74 species) and construction (92 species). Among the different types of resource use tree species are more in number (Table 7.1).

Table 7.1 Habit of potential resource species

Table 7.1 Habit of potential resource species

5Among the medicinal and NWFP categories, many species are used for their leaves and roots (Table 7.2). Species such as Mangifera indica, Rauwolfia serpentina, Bacopa monnieri, and Azadirachta indica all the parts have medicinal properties. Similarly Mitragyna parvifolia, Terminalia bellirica, Artocarpus hirsutus, Holoptelea integrifolia, Tectona grandis, Terminalia paniculata, Chukrasia tabularis, Lannea coromandelica and Salix tetrasperma are used as timber for agriculture, construction, furniture and softwood.

Table 7.2 Parts of the plants with resource value

Table 7.2 Parts of the plants with resource value

6The repartition of species according to the broad vegetation types indicates that 236 species are found in the evergreen forests and the remaining are distributed in deciduous forests. Among the species with medicinal properties, 157 are true evergreen (Table 7.3). Likewise, NWFP and TFP account for 152 and 103 species respectively.

Table 7.3 The phenology of potential resource species

Table 7.3 The phenology of potential resource species

7The density of major NWFP species (species selected based on the quantity of usufructs collected) has been compared to understand the impact of collection on the demography of the species. It was found that the density of fruit bearing species such as Myristica malabarica, M. dactyloides and Garcinia gummi-gutta is indirectly proportionate to disturbance regime. In other words, density of these species is high in undisturbed evergreen forests (EG1) and low in moderately and highly (EG2 & EG3) disturbed patches (Table 7.4). Since these species are true evergreen and primary in nature, the seeds do not germinate in the disturbed areas due to change in microclimate. The density of species where resin is collected (e.g., Canarium strictum Vateria indica and Kingiodendron pinnatum) through incising or chipping the bark also show similar trend in population structure. In the case of Canarium strictum, no pole size individuals are reported from the plots of EG2 & EG3. Hydnocarpus pentandra whose fruits are being collected, is the only species that shows high density in degraded evergreen forests, probably due to its ecological resilience with the microclimate.

8Reeds and bamboos are the two main NWFP species collected from the landscape units for commercial purpose. Reeds (Ochlandra spp) are small gregarious bamboo found in the form of clumps or climbers. Among the eight endemic species reported from Kerala, O. sivagiriana is commonly found in the Vazhachal division and O. tranvancorica var. travancorica and O. travancorica var. hirsute are widely distributed in the Pooyamkutty-Malayattor area.

9An attempt has been made to quantify the availability of reed clumps and culms for collection (the culms that measure >5 cm are considered for counting because the agencies normally collect only such size). The sampling was carried out in areas where collection was previously carried out. It was found that the density of reed clumps varied between 710 to 990 (mean 818±69.78) per ha. Similarly the density of culms varied between 4680 to 14500 per ha (mean 11893±4092). In the pure patches the density of clump is 735 ±134 per ha and in the mixed patches (patches with other tree species) it is 837±115 clumps per ha. The density of mature trees and recruitments of NWFP species are indicative of the unsustainability of the collection practices.

Table 7.4 Density (individuals per ha) of major NWFP species per ha in macro (X) and micro (Y) plots of different vegetation types

Table 7.4 Density (individuals per ha) of major NWFP species per ha in macro (X) and micro (Y) plots of different vegetation types

10Some of the major reasons for the depletion of resources in the case of reeds are unscientific collection, fire, lack of regeneration (planting) efforts etc. Although strict felling rules are prescribed in the Working Plans, the implementation of the same may not be successful due to various reasons. The number of species described in the above paragraph is very low compared to the total number of species being collected. If we include the population of those species also the situation may be really alarming. Hence, the appropriate planning and the implementation of the strategies are required to ensure the sustainability of these resources.

NWFP extraction: agency, economics and sustainability

11A significant proportion of income of the forest dwelling adivasi communities is from the collection and marketing of NWFP. Based on a statewide survey it has been estimated (Thomas, 1996) that on an average 58 percent of the annual income of the adivasi households is from NWFP. Items of forest produce other than timber were classified under the broader group called Minor Forest Produce (MFP) until 1990s, a practice continued from the British period. The major forest produce being timber during the British period, MFP was the expression appropriate in those days. The shift in emphasis in forest management from timber to non-timber necessitated a reconsideration of the role of MFP in the forest economy. Non-timber benefits from forests can overwhelm the economic benefits from the timber in the long run. Therefore, MFPs are grouped either as Non-wood forest products or as non-timber forest products (NTFP) in 1990s. While the NTFPs include all forest produce other than timber including fuel-wood the NWFPs exclude fuel-woods and timber. This study concerns only with the forest produce belonging to the NWFP.

Experiments in NWFP-administration

12Collection of NWFP prior to the British period was mainly restricted to the spices of trade. In those days agencies of local rulers had organised the trade through the small merchants engaging in barter with the hunting gathering adivasi communities in the forest areas. The royalty or seigniorage that the king imposed on merchants was a rudimentary form of tax as well as an instrument of state control over the resources. The system was continued with little alteration by the British. It underwent some modifications in the post independence period. Either the coupe contractors or the taungya cultivators were given rights to organise the collection and marketing of the NWFPs with an advance payment of seigniorage. It is obvious that the revenue from the NWFPs was considered as an issue of minor importance by the state exchequer during these decades. As the restrictions on the forest working became stringent and the revenue due to timber-extraction dwindled, more attention was given to the control of NWFP extraction. By 1970s, the strategies of development and welfare of the adivasi populations mostly residing in the forest were conceived in association with MFP extraction. In recognition of the dependency of the adivasis on NWFPs the government granted the right of NWFP collection to them in 1970. From this period onwards the state has been experimenting with a series of institutional structures for the effective management of the collection of NWFP resources.

  • 2 The members of the MFP committee are Chief Conservator of Forests, Registrar of Cooperativ (...)

13Tribal Service Co-operative Societies were formed in 1978 with exclusive membership of adivasis. This was a measure to exclude the non-adivasi population from appropriating the forest produces and to reduce the exploitative influence of intermediaries on adivasi economy. The Girijan (adivasi) Service Co-operative Societies were advised to sell the produce to the Kerala Pharmaceutical Corporation at prices fixed by an MFP Committee.2 MFP committee also look in to other matters concerning NWFP administration such as:

  • allotment of forest ranges to the societies for NWFP collection;
  • fixation of procurement and sale prices of NWFP items;
  • revision of the list of NWFP items and collection charges.

14Decisions of the committee are periodically communicated to the forest department and the federation. The executive committee of the cooperatives has freedom to revise these prices on the condition that the revised prices will not be below earlier ones.

15The failure of this system prompted the state government to reorganise it in1981. Under the new arrangement more power was vested on the forest department and the societies. Kerala State Harijan and Girijan Co-operative Federation Ltd, an apex organisation to coordinate the activities of the tribal cooperatives was set up. The federation is authorised for coordinating the sale and disposal of the produces collected by the cooperatives. The cooperatives are expected to pay the forest department a concessional lease rent fixed by the committee annually.

16The official entry permit for the society in the trade of NWFP is accorded based on a contract with the concerned divisional forest officers. It is customary for the cooperatives to issue identity cards to all the members for preventing impersonation. The working capital of the cooperatives is the money advanced by the federation that also provides instructions to the societies on the quantity and quality of items to be collected. The federation runs an ayurvedic medicine-manufacturing unit called ‘ayurdhara’. The purchase of produces from NWFP collectors is entrusted to agents by the cooperatives. The agents organise collection through centres at various points in the forest ranges. Possession of a transit pass issued by the forest department is mandatory for transportation of the products to the headquarters of the cooperative and later to the stockyard of the federation.

Figure 7.1 Administration and pricing mechanism of NWFPs in the state

(Muraleedharan et al, 1997)

17Raw material collected is sold either in auction or on prior orders by the federation. In some cases cooperatives sell items by direct negotiation with the buyer. NWFP collectors are paid by the cooperative from funds advanced by the federation. Approximately 75 percent of the sale-prices of the produces are paid as collection-charges to members. The members of the cooperatives are entitled to receive a proportion of annual profit as bonus. Cooperatives are exempted from paying the lease rent to the forest department from 1990 onwards (Figure 7.1)

NWFP administration: constraints and inadequacy

18The organisation and practices of NWFP extraction by the cooperatives is a cause of serious concern, as it is incompatible if not contradictory to the ideal of participatory and sustainable forest management practices due to the following reasons:

  • members of the cooperative, (tribal collectors), are treated as wageworkers and their participation on the decision-making is minimal;
  • conservation of resource base and its regeneration is not a concern of the cooperative. Cooperatives have made no effort in collaborating with the forest department in any such endeavours;
  • cooperatives did not invest adequately to improve the quality and capabilities of their human resources either by imparting training to the NWFP collectors or by providing incentives for adopting good collection practices;
  • cooperatives did not invest adequately to improve the quality and capabilities of their human resources either by imparting training to the NWFP collectors or by providing incentives for adopting good collection practices;
  • it has been observed that in most cases the prices offered by the private agents are more than the prices offered by the cooperatives resulting in:
    • ○ reduction in the market share of the cooperatives; ○ defeating the idea of monopolistic collection of NWFP; ○ failing the primary objective of tribal welfare
  • it has been observed that the opportunities of the tribal people in semi-processing and local value addition have not been properly utilised by the cooperative and they have failed in enhancing the income-earning opportunities of members;
  • it was observed by reviewers that the federation and cooperatives have accumulated huge losses (to the tune of Rs. 6.5 million in 1996) through inefficient functioning and marketing;
  • cooperatives collect only limited number of items that have ready market and are available in larger quantities. Thus, the NWFP collectors options for diversification of collection are restricted affecting the sustainability of resource base by over-collection of limited items.

19In the light of these inadequacies a comprehensive review and revision of the NWFP management is warranted in the state. The new institutional arrangement should ideally combine the potentials of both VSS and the ST services cooperatives.

Formal and informal markets of NWFPs

20The collection and removal of 120 items of forest products are legally permitted in the state. Out of these, cooperative societies are authorised to collect 96 species. However, products vary considerably over time and space either due to change in demand of the products or due to change in the availability of produces in the forest. The change in demand of the forest products can be attributed to a wide variety of market factors. The variation in the availability of the forest produces could be attributed to the fluctuations in forest productivity due to natural and anthropogenic factors.

21Apart from cooperatives, there are numerous private suppliers catering to the raw material-needs of the manufactures of healthcare produces in the small-scale sector. Largest consumer of the forest produces is the ayurvedic medicine-manufacturing sector. Nearly 33 percent of the total quantity of the produce collected from the study area, earning 56 percent of the revenue is due to medicinal plants. (Table 7.5).

Table 7.5 Revenue due to various categories of NWFPs

Particulars Collection charge (Rs.) Percentage
Medicinal plants 3393700.65 55.54
Spices 459518.75 7.52
Toiletries 1727751.3 28.28
Others 529055.66 8.66
Total 6110026.36 100
  • 3 Estimates of the actual quantity of the produces extracted annually can only be partially (...)

22The collection of the NWFPs is driven by the demand factor in both formal and non-formal sectors. In the formal sector, each societies serves instructions to collectors to procure specific produces based on requirements communicated by the buyers who represent usually high-volume consumers. However, in case of the non-formal market the items supplied cater mainly to the needs of low volume consumers.3

Formal market of NWFP

23There are six ST service cooperatives involved in the collection and marketing of products from the landscape. The membership in these cooperatives is customary for the adivasi families to avail themselves the right of collection and sale of the produces. A collection permit is issued to the members by the cooperative of the concerned area and the same is endorsed by the forest department. Generally, all adult members of the adivasi families are permitted to collect and sell NWFP at the collection centres of the respective cooperative societies. These rules are not strictly observed by the cooperatives and their collection centres. For instance, one of the secretaries of the cooperative admitted that his membership register was so old that some members in it would not even be alive today.

24Some 49 items of the forest produce, derived from 47 species of plants and 2 species of animals are collected and marketed in 2004-2005 (Annex 7.1). Among these, 27 species of plants and 2 species of animals are marketed through the tribal cooperative societies and 20 items are sold to private vendors. Out of the former set, 10 items are underground parts, 10 fruits or seeds, two bark of trees, and two resins. Among latter, five items are underground parts, four fruits or seeds, two bark of trees and seven are entire plants used by pharmaceuticals. Most fruits and barks collected as NWFP are derived from either trees or from woody climbers. Whereas the NWFP collected as entire plants, roots and tubers are derived from annual or biennial herbs and climbers. Most of the plants collected and marketed exclusively by the private vendors from the study area during 2004-05 are for the medicinal use and these are herbaceous plants, where either the entire plant or their tubers and roots are utilised. Wax and two varieties of honey are the items of animal origin in the study area. The honey obtained from the area is of two types- vanthen and cheruthen (both from Apis spp). Wax obtained from the comb has good market value too. The list of NWFP marketed through informal and formal channels during 2003-2004 (Annex 7.1).

Quantity and price of NWFP

25A total of 235.6 tons of NWFP biomass worth rupees 61,09,026 is extracted from the forests of the study area during 2004-2005. The unit prize of the biomass thus amounts to 26 rupees per kilogramme. The quantity is rather a gross underestimate as the quantity and revenue of items marketed through private vendors is not taken into account here.

26Thirteen items such as cheenikka, kattupadavalam, kasthurimanjal, thelli, pathiripoovu, padakkuzhangu, elakka, nannari, koova, marottikkuru, edanappoovu wild honey and wax contributed approximately 98 percent of the total revenue accrued by the NWFP collectors of the formal sector during the period of study (Figure 7.2).

Figure 7.2 Relative contribution of major items in terms of percentage of
revenue generated from the marketing of NWFPs to cooperatives
during 2003-2004

27Considerable variations are observed in the prices offered to the products by the cooperatives. Prices of thelli, wax, cheruthen and some of the tuber crops such as amalpori and padakkizhangu vary significantly across the cooperatives. Such variations are minimal in case of the high volume products such as cheenikka, thelli, vanthen, kasturimanjal. The high variation in the price indicates the market characteristics of the product. Involvement and intensity of different adivasi communities in the collection and marketing of the NWFP vary in relation to their landed assets and the livelihood options. These factors are determined partially by the historical processes (for details see chapter 6).


28The marked seasonality in the availability of various NWFP is determined by the phenological cycles of NWFP species. For instance, the production of reproductive parts such as flowers and fruits is determined by the annual phenological cycle of the species. Similarly, the quality and quantity of the honey production vary depending on the phenology of nectar producing plant species. Items such as resins, stem cuttings and bark peelings are available throughout the year. On an average 14 items are available for the collectors at any time of the year (Table 7.6).

Informal market of the NWFP

29These agents are mostly located in the market places on the forest fringes. They are part of a large network of raw material marketing consisting of private suppliers in the medium and large trade centres adjacent to forests. This unauthorised channel accounts for a significant volume of trade in forest produces. In addition to the items marketed through ST cooperatives, some twenty more items are reportedly marketed through this informal network. Among these two items are bark of trees, four fruits obtained from shrubs, climbers and trees, seven entire plants and tubers of five annuals used by pharmaceutical industries. Some items of medicinal importance are collected only in irregular intervals against the specific orders placed to the vendors by the pharmaceutical companies. This is especially so in the case of the produce used in the herbal preparations that has longer shelf life and smaller sale volumes. The informal channel mostly handles produces of medium and low volume trade, catering mainly to the local, smaller manufacturing units. However, there are suppliers with large trading volumes, who cater to the needs of bigger manufacturing units.

30One of the striking dissimilarities between the formal and informal market channels pertains to their strategies of risk management. The cooperatives at large try to minimise market contingencies by collecting the items that have assured demand. In the case of private vendors, a series of contingencies require them to be flexible in their functioning. Such sources of contingency include lack of assurances from state agencies in the private trade of forest produces and the risks associated with the advancement of money to the NWFP collector. The net result is adoption of a set of risk aversion strategies with an adverse impact on the adivasi economy resulting in the increased and unsustainable extraction of resources. For instance, the under pricing of the produce, advancing of money to the collector, and the small- scale value addition performed by semi-processing and grading are some of the risk aversion strategies of the small-scale unauthorised traders. Under pricing of the produce induces the collector to extract larger volume of produce by intensifying the collection methods beyond the level of regeneration rates of the resources. Advancing money put the collector in a debt trap. Primary value addition by means of semi-processing (such as drying, cleaning, grading, sizing and packing) requires minimum or no capital investment and can be easily practised by the gatherer fetching him better prices that would mean lesser intensity of the NWFP harvest. But this primary processing is done by the middlemen who maximise their profits by insisting on buying unprocessed produce from the gatherer.

Table 7.6 Seasonality of the NWFP species from January (J) to December (D)

Table 7.6 Seasonality of the NWFP species from January (J) to December (D)

31Among the major factors influencing the preference of private or informal channel by the NWFP gatherer are pricing, payment, indebtedness, tradability of the item, and proximity of the marketing facility. Wherever the cooperative offers fair prices and prompt payment, the collectors prefer to sell their product to cooperatives provided other factors are equal. Indebtedness of the collector to private vendors often forces him to sell their products to the vendor who in return advances money in the form of provisions from his shop. As cooperatives do not offer this facility, a number of gatherers prefer this option. Some of the relatively abundant or easily available material may not be traded by the society either due to lack of advance order from the buyers manufacturers, or because of legal restrictions on their trade. In such situations, the private vendor ceases the opportunity by offering smaller prices. This would induce the collector to harvest larger quantities. Apart from these, the proximity of the market, either the private or the cooperative society, is a decisive factor that determines the choice of market. The proximity also implies mode of transportation available to save the effort and time required in transporting the goods. The item collected from the remote forest localities and difficult terrains means extra investment of time to bring it to market. In some localities such as Variyam and most settlements in the Malayattoor regions either the private vendors or their agents reach out to the settlements and offer to transport produces by discounting an amount from the goods thus traded as transportation cost. It has been observed that such deals are accepted by the NWFP collector when the formal markets are rigid and difficult to access.

Biology, harvesting practices and sustainability

32The major challenge to the sustainable management of NWFP is balancing the production and supply while providing sufficient incentives to the collectors for Sustainable Forest Management (SFM). The biological productivity of the forest ecosystem is the key (limiting as well as enabling) factor in this. The chances of regeneration or sustainability of the population of NWFP species depend largely on the phenology of species and the mode of harvesting. The parts extracted and collection practices have direct bearing on the sustainability of the resource base (Figure 7.3 for classifycation of the NWFPs based on the biology of the produce). For instance, population of the plants that reproduce sexually is affected if their flowers and seeds are removed from the habitat. The extraction of vegetative parts also results in partial or complete loss of vitality of the plant even if the reproductive parts are not harvested. In this respect, a set of recommendations can be made on the good harvesting practices. Unsustainable harvesting practices may be identified as falling in following broad categories: complete removal of local population, destructive harvesting, and early harvesting. The complete removal of local population of the NWFP occurs mainly with the herbs and shrubs where the entire plant is extracted. In case of destructive harvesting the plant is inflicted with heavy injuries though only part of the plant is actually removed as NWFP. In case of premature collection, harvesting of reproductive parts of the plants such as seeds, arils, and the entire fruit, occur early in its phenological cycle affecting the regeneration of the population.

Figure 7.3 Classification of the NWFPs of plant origin (adapted from the
Anitha and Muraleedharan, 2002).

33Among the 46 items of plant origin collected from the study area, 17 are annuals that include 10 species of climbers and seven species of herbs. Among the 29 species of perennials, seven are climbers (including three lianas), eight shrubs and 12 trees. (Annex 7.1) Among the annuals the part consumed was either the entire plant or the roots or tubers mainly for medicinal purpose, which means that all of them are perished while harvesting. Since uprooting forms the major harvesting strategy in this category of plants, it is practised mostly in the monsoon or soon after the monsoon as the wet soil makes the work of the gatherer easier. In the case of species that are regenerated from seeds the period of harvest has to be staggered to facilitate seed rain or a few individuals should be left to complete the lifecycle and function as inocula. In case of the vegetativly propagated species planting of a few suckers or leaving a few rhizomes unharvested could help in restoring the population.

34In the case of perennial species the parts harvested include fruits, seeds, bark and resin. The whole plant is harvested by uprooting in case of some medicinal perennial shrubs and most of these are propagated through seeds. In case of Helecteres isora, the fruit is harvested as a raw drug. Nevertheless, it is not known if the season of harvesting follows the seed rain. In case of climbers, the parts harvested vary from stem to bark and fruits, most which are ingredients of ayurvedic healthcare produces. Depending on the part, the harvesting techniques vary from removal of fruits and seeds to debarking or cutting of the main trunk. In case of incha and cheevakka the liana is cut jeopardising the productivity of plant for the upcoming season (Table 7.7). Premature collection of the fruits also affects regeneration, for instance the collection of cheevakka before the ripening of the fruits is common in times of competition among gatherers.

35Bark, fruits and resin are the major products obtained from trees. In case of Symplocos, Sterculia and Cinnammomum the whole tree is debarked during the collection of the bark. A complete debarking is invariably fatal to the tree. Harvesting of fruits of the tree species is made easier by cutting down the branches or in worst cases by felling the tree itself. The cutting of the branches adversely affects the vitality of the tree and may reduce the fruiting in subsequent years. In case of Canarium strictum, the resin is collected by inflicting injuries on the bark of the mature tree and collected after drying up the exudates. In case of intensive collection, the base of the tree is burned to boost exudation. In both the instances, the survival of the tree is threatened. There are indications that the outflow of black dammar from the forest has declined drastically in the past few years due to the decline in its availability. Annual collection of thelli by the Sholayar ST Service Cooperative Society in late 1990s was to the tune of 14 tons, which is now reduced to less than two tons. This reduction in out flow at the prevailing high rates of thelli indicates the damage incurred to the Canarium population in the forest.

Table 7.7 Unsustainable methods of NWFP collection

Table 7.7 Unsustainable methods of NWFP collection

36Out of the 47 species of NWFP, 30 are either uprooted or subjected to fatal injuries during normal harvesting. And at the instances of intensive harvesting, individuals of the 39 species met with similar plight (Figure 7.4).

Figure 7.4 Various methods of NWFP harvesting: percentage of NWFP
species in each mode of harvesting

37Vanthen or the honey obtained from the combs of Apis dorsetta forms a major NWFP item from the study area. However, it was told to us that the availability of honey in the forest is steadily declining. One of the reasons could be unsustainable practices of honey collection such as burning the entire bee colony during collection, and harvesting during the wrong season. If the former is the result of unskilled collection the latter is often induced by competition among the honey collectors. A skilled traditional honey collector would inflict only least damage to the population of the bees although the entire comb is extracted. The colony (bee population) survives and continues to build new combs. In case of collection during lean seasons, the stored food and the reproductive cycle of the hive are endangered and it results in the collapse of the population structure of the colony.

Restocking of NWFP resources in the landscape

In the past, various agencies have experimented possibilities of artificial regeneration of the NWFP species in the homesteads. For example, species such as Holestemma has been successfully domesticated with the active involvement of the forest department and some of the private pharmaceutical enterprises. The restocking of the NWFP species in suitable localities inside the forests as part of the assisted natural regeneration programmes needs to be considered. Similarly, some of the old growth teak plantations in areas such as Parambikulam also could be considered for restocking the selected NWFP species through PFM institutions. The inadequacy of data on the reproductive ecology of NWFP species is a hurdle in restocking NWFP resources though workforce may be available as the VSS starts functioning under the coordination of FDA.

Reed extraction: agency, economics and sustainability

38In the landscape units forests of Malayattoor and Vazhachal divisions more precisely that of Edamalayar-Pooyamkutty valleys are rich in reed resources. Here reed grows gregariously with a few or little tree growth. Both the traditional and modern sectors extract reed from the area. In the traditional sector the extraction is for the matt and basket weaving by artisans living the fringe areas of forests in Kuttampuzha, Keerampara, Vadattupara, Malayattoor, Neeleeswaram and Ezhattumugham. There are also tribal mat and basket weaver households inside the forests belonging to the Muthuvan and Mannan communities.

39In the modern sector, extraction is due to two agencies- Hindustan Newsprint Ltd. (HNL) and the Kerala State Bamboo Corporation (KSBC). The average annual extraction of reed by both these agencies from the valleys amounts to approximately 25670 metric tons. However, there is a variation in the annual quantities of collection from the landscape units over the years as shown in the Figure 7.5. On an average 82 percent of the total annual extraction is due to Hindustan Newsprint

40Both these firms have entered in to long-term agreements (LTAs) with the state government and secured assurance of the regular annual supply of the specific quantity of reeds to them. There are two different types of reed allotment system in the state. In the modern sector (HNL and KSBC), reed allotment is based on the mutually agreed norms mentioned in the LTA. In the traditional sector it is based on a head load segniorage system. In the case of HNL, the extraction of reed is carried out through contractors who work the coupes allotted to the company with hired work force. The contractor is paid on the basis of quantity of reed thus supplied at the factory gate. In the case of the KSBC, reed is collected under direct supervision utilising the locally hired labour. In case of the head load segniorage system, a pass/permit with validity for 24 hours is issued by the Range Officer, against an application by the reed worker, for removal of specified quantity of reed by means of head load. A non-refundable segniorage, at a rate fixed each year at state level, needs to be advanced along with the application. The above commitments and allotment are based on the findings of preinvestment surveys.

Figure 7.5 Quantity of annual collection of reeds from LUs by HNL and
KSBC from 2001-2002 to 2003-2004 (in metric tons)

41As the bulk of reed extraction is due to the modern sector, a closer examination of the firms would throw more light on the issues associated with the sustainability of reed resources. The forthcoming sections provide an overview of the resource extraction and the associated issues of sustainability in the modern sector.

Kerala State Bamboo Corporation

42The Kerala State Bamboo Corporation (KSBC) was set up in 1971 for organising extraction and supply of bamboos (includes reeds) and marketing of the bamboo products. The decision to set up a corporation under the state ministry of industries followed after rejection of the idea to form bamboo and reed workers cooperatives. The main objective was to free reed workers from exploitative intermediaries in the reed sector by ensuring cheap and adequate supply of raw materials to the weavers. At present the main activities of the corporation are:

  1. harvesting of specific quality of reeds from various forest regions;
  2. distribution of reeds to the mat weavers and procurement of mats from them;
  3. distribution of reeds to the traditional workers on cash sale basis;
  4. manufacture of ‘bambooply, ’ artefacts, and other value added bamboo products;
  5. sale of ‘bambooply’ and bamboo mats.
  • 4 GO (Ms) 310/Fin/dated 12-10-1983

43On the basis of earlier agreement in 1977 with state government the KSBC was given exclusive rights for annual collection of 5,000 tonnes of reeds from specified forest coupes. Subsequent agreements in 1978-79, 1983 and 1987-88 raised the quantum of reed allotted to the corporation to 20,000, 25,000 and 30,000 tons respectively. The areas of collection were also expanded to include industrial plantation circle of Perumbavoor, Mankulam and divisions in northern circle apart from the originally allotted Kollam and Thrissur forest circles. The reed collection is organised through nine centres in the various parts of the state mostly in the central and southern districts. The distribution of reed to the weavers is organised through 100 depots. Apart from these, some 15 reed distribution centres are also setup exclusively for supplying reeds to the traditional workers. KSBC claims that ‘over one lakh individuals either engaged in reed cutting, mat weaving or making handicraft articles are benefited from the corporation’. From 1983 onwards, KSBC was exempted from payment of rent to government in recognition of the social commitment in its mission.4

Reed extraction

44Reed cutting is a skilled job demanding expertise in identifying the right quality of reeds for mat weaving. At preset, there are over 2500 reed cutters registered with KSBC. It is estimated that around 60,000 weavers registered with the corporation make their livelihood by weaving the reeds supplied by it. KSBC has developed a value added bamboo product named ‘bambooply’ in 1985. Though initially this was a market success, in recent times there were some setbacks in marketing the product. The reeds for mat and basket weaving have specific quality requirements. So the reed extraction by the corporation is through a selective removal of reeds from the coupes allotted to it. Under the existing reed collection system, KSBC and HNL work the same coupe in two stages, i.e. the coups selectively extracted by the corporation is subsequently allotted to the HNL for more intensive extraction.

45The actual quantity of reed harvested varies from year to year. The extraction for KSBC is carried out from the seven ranges belonging to the Vazhachal and Malayattoor divisions (Table 7.8). Considering the extraction of reeds for past five years from these forest ranges, it is evident that on an average 6117.054 metric ton of reed (approximately 20 percent of annual allotment) is removed from the study area. More than 50 percent of annual collection is due to the Kuttampuzha and Thundathil ranges of the Malayattoor forest division.

46As per the rolls of the KSBC, numbers of weavers registered have increased from 600 in 1977-78 to 9576 in 1998. According to Kumar (1985) the average annual requirements of reed to a weaver are two metric tons. Considering the number of weavers on the rolls of KSBC is right, the annual requirement of the corporation would be approximately 20000 metric tons of reeds. Though the corporation claims for an annual supply of 32000 metric tons it is unable to collect what is annually allotted to them. Considering the fact that the KSBC has additional responsibility of supplying more than three lakhs of reed-based artisans in the unorganised sectors also, it may be assumed that with the annual collection falling short of the allotted figures, KSBC is failing in catering to the raw material needs of reed workers in the State. This may be due to the actual shortage of raw materials or due to the inherent structural constraints and inability of the KSBC to organise collection, distribution of the reed resources to all categories of beneficiaries (beneficiaries include cottage industries based on bamboo, reed, cane and rattan, the registered mat weavers attached to around 100 depots of the corporation, the bamboo/reed based cooperative societies and the traditional bamboo/reed artisans spread across Kerala). Therefore, it appears that there is an apparent discrepancy between actual quantity of reed available and extractable to KSBC considering its requirements and procurement capacity. Any kind of strategic planning will be rendered futile if this issue is not addressed right in the beginning.

Table 7.8 Quantity of reed collected from the study area by KSBC

Table 7.8 Quantity of reed collected from the study area by KSBC

47Marketing of bambooply has run into problems and the corporation had large quantity of this product accumulated in the depot. A quick assessment of the performance of the KSBC indicates that the corporation is suffering from the ‘Mammoth Institution Syndrome’, characterised by capital-intensive production and poor marketing network. The role of KSBC as a facilitator in the reed and bamboo working sector in terms of innovation and brand development was fraught with problems. According to Surendranath (2004) KSBC has remained an uneconomic industry that diverted bamboo from alternative, higher value uses with the subsidies it enjoyed (to the tune of Rs. 19 million per year) working as disincentive to both conservation as well as sustainable utilization of bamboo resources in Kerala.

Hindustan Newsprints Limited

  • 5 There was a gross over-estimation of the annual potential availability of the industrial r (...)

48Hindustan Newsprint Limited is a subsidiary of central government owned Hindustan Paper Corporation Limited (HPCL) under the central ministry of heavy industries. The HPCL had launched Kerala Newsprint Project that was later to become HNL, in 1976. The mill was equipped with imported technology to manufacture newsprint using a combination of chemimechanical pulp produced from eucalyptus and chemical pulp made from bamboo/reed in the proportion of 70: 30. The company was incorporated as a wholly owned subsidiary of the HPCL on June 07, 1983. As per a long-term agreement (LTA) signed between the company and the Government of Kerala in 1974 the latter was entitled for supplying eucalyptus and reed from plantations in the state forests. ‘Under the 30-year LTA, the government agreed to provide 1,89,000 tonnes of reed (at 50 per cent moisture content) and 1,50,000 tonnes of eucalyptus (1 lakh tonnes of Eucalyptus grandis the rest E. tereticornis). It was also agreed that in case of destruction of reed forests due to gregarious flowering in the areas allotted to HNL, ‘suitable long-fibre pulpwood from other areas would be supplied, as far as possible’ (Surendranath, 2004). The terms of the agreement on the fixation of segniorage rate were more innovative and competitive for the state exchequer compared to other similar agreements.5 Following the promulgation of the Forest Produce (Fixing of Selling Price) Act, in 1978 the company was obliged to pay forest regeneration charge of Rs. 25 per tonne, 10 per cent forest development tax and an additional sales tax. There were provisions in the agreement for extracting a penalty for causing fire in the forest. Only 39.70 percentage of total quantity allotted were collected by the HNL between 1982-83 and 1995-96. The possible reasons quoted are:

  1. inaccessibility of the coupes allotted for extraction;
  2. destruction of reed forests through fire and consequent poor regeneration;
  3. exclusion of wildlife areas from industrial exploitation;
  4. destruction of the resource-base as a result of simultaneous working by HNL and KSBC;
  5. growth of weeds due to degradation of forests;
  6. damage done to the resource base on account of the contractors;
  7. concentrating on easily accessible areas;
  8. absence of special efforts for regeneration.

49Most of these reasons point towards depletion of reed resources due to unscientific extraction. It should be noted that HNL was just one among the three major players in the reed sector in these periods along with Punalur Paper Mill and KSBC.

50The reed extracted from the Vazhachal and Malayattoor divisions during the 2002-2003 and 2003-2004 amounted to 35 and 32 percent of the total annual requirement of the firm in respective years. (Table 7.9) As per the estimates of the industry oriented reed management plan of 1998, the reed from the study area such as Pooyamkutty, Kuttampuzha, Edamalayar, and Vazhachal have lowest cost of extraction for the HNL.

Table 7.9 Quantity of reed (in metric tons) collected from the study area by HNL

Table 7.9 Quantity of reed (in metric tons) collected from the study area by HNL

51HNL is rated as a well performing pulp and paper unit in the country. It has an Average annual production of 105932 metric tons of newsprint during 2000-2001 to 2004-2005. HNL has consistent record of full capacity production and surplus generation for over a decade now. It has also achieved zero stock consecutively during 2003-04 and 2004-05. Other recognitions include achievements in energy conservation and farm/community forestry initiatives. HNL has been raising captive plantations in an area of about 5600 ha. since 1993-94. It has distributed 20.5 million seedlings since 1998 as part of the community and farm forestry scheme to augment the pulp wood production.


52It is obvious from the above review that the resource use (including use of forest space and extractive resources) by most agencies has substantial and direct bearing on the conservation of biodiversity and ecological processes. Large-scale forestland conversion is due to reservoirs and plantations while extraction of biomass is due to industries and forest dependent communities. Institutional arrangements for coordinating and prioritising the interests of these stakeholders are inadequate. For instance the forest department’s linkage and institutional partnerships with ST cooperatives, KSBC and the HNL are minimal. It was found that the forest department’s ability in achieving the management objectives is highly constrained by this inadequacy of institutional arrangements. An effective partnership with forest department and these agencies could ideally enhance the livelihood opportunities of the forest depended communities. For instance entrusting the reed extraction with the VSS would provide the ample mileage to the PFM activities while reducing the pressure on the forests. Besides this, the forest department would be able to monitor the sustainability of the reed extraction more effectively. Similarly, a share of the royalty due to reed collection may be channelled to the respective divisions. This would prove very effective in implementing restoration and regeneration of the resource species. The review of the current management practices and policy environment in the forthcoming chapter is intended for evolving a new institutional mechanism for greater partnership with various stakeholders in the light of the above findings.


1 Wealth of India various volumes.

2 The members of the MFP committee are Chief Conservator of Forests, Registrar of Cooperative Societies, Director of Tribal Welfare, Managing Director, Kerala Pharmaceutical Corporation, Secretary of Health Ministry government of Kerala, Managing Director, Kerala State Harijan and Development Co-operative Federation and principal of the government Ayurveda College, Thiruvananthapuram. Representative of forest department is the chairperson of the committee.

3 Estimates of the actual quantity of the produces extracted annually can only be partially made as considerably large proportion of the forest produces is marketed through private agents. Even a modest estimate is possible only after a prolonged survey. Data on the quantity of NWFPs considered for discussion here are from the records of the tribal cooperatives and exclude the items and quantity sold to the private vendors. So these figures should be taken only as an indicative of trends rather than as a presentation of actual volume of removal from the forest.

4 GO (Ms) 310/Fin/dated 12-10-1983

5 There was a gross over-estimation of the annual potential availability of the industrial reed from the forests at the time of effecting the agreement.

Table des illustrations

Titre Table 7.1 Habit of potential resource species
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Titre Table 7.2 Parts of the plants with resource value
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Titre Table 7.3 The phenology of potential resource species
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Titre Table 7.4 Density (individuals per ha) of major NWFP species per ha in macro (X) and micro (Y) plots of different vegetation types
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Légende Figure 7.1 Administration and pricing mechanism of NWFPs in the state
Crédits (Muraleedharan et al, 1997)
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Légende Figure 7.2 Relative contribution of major items in terms of percentage ofrevenue generated from the marketing of NWFPs to cooperativesduring 2003-2004
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Titre Table 7.6 Seasonality of the NWFP species from January (J) to December (D)
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Légende Figure 7.3 Classification of the NWFPs of plant origin (adapted from theAnitha and Muraleedharan, 2002).
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Titre Table 7.7 Unsustainable methods of NWFP collection
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Légende Figure 7.4 Various methods of NWFP harvesting: percentage of NWFPspecies in each mode of harvesting
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Légende Figure 7.5 Quantity of annual collection of reeds from LUs by HNL andKSBC from 2001-2002 to 2003-2004 (in metric tons)
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Titre Table 7.8 Quantity of reed collected from the study area by KSBC
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Titre Table 7.9 Quantity of reed (in metric tons) collected from the study area by HNL
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