We had a good round of meeting/s in Anaipallam earlier this week. The context  was broadly forest management with one round of meetings to understand the current  VFC system and another to discuss the operational details of the FRA.

We have been in touch with a group of 3 youth for the last 5-6 months during the FRA meetings in Pillur. These 3 along with some others farmers want to resetlle in Mel Pillur and hence their involvement in these meetings. One of these men, Malai Murugan also travelled with us to Orissa to look at community forestry there. On coming back, Anaipallam asked us to participate in a village meeting this week  to discuss the FRA . The discussions with  the village headman – Man Marudhan and some others threw up the idea of them wanting our help with setting up a godown and possibly a production centre in the village. The village has about 78 odd farmers with titled revenue land of about 2-3 acres on an average.  There are also farmers owning only a few cents.

They seem to have given the idea some thought – the land where a godown could be built has been identified, though they are yet to ask the owner; it has both water and electricity. The investment for the godown, they want help with. So what about working capital, i asked them – they said if they were to start a fund of Rs 100/month/HH; they would have about Rs 15000 in about 3 months. The rest, they said they had 3 SHGs working in the village, all of whom are applying for loans of about Rs 60000/ each and then the VFC has about Rs 80,000 which they could avail of, if they repaid an outstanding loan of Rs 8000/-

I realized that there were many things that could go wrong with these plans and they might actually not be able to mobilize this money but the fact that they were willing to give it a shot and had planned it. Also all of these actually require quite of bit of collective effort, which they seem confident of.

The produce they want to start with are coffee and pepper – about 3 tonnes of coffee and around 2 tonnes of pepper. We want to hold it all within the village and maybe start a unit to powder the coffee and label it and sell it. And then we can also buy silk cotton and make beds and sell those instead of selling the cotton, they said.

Eventually with the FRA, they will also be able to trade the shikekai, kadukkai, poochakai and eacham(hopefully by the next season).

We had invited MYRADA also to attend the FRA meeting and happily, the HADP community organiser came along. Many people in the village did not know that their village was part of a watershed project which HADP with MYRADA were implementing. So the both of them made a presentation of the plans under the watershed project and the other possibilities that the village could ask for. They immediately popped the question of the godown and the working capital.

This movement in Anaipallam is very encouraging because it points to the scenario of NTFP-based collective enterprise and community governance of forests,  mutually reinforcing each other. This in turn, we know has linkages with strengthening tribal identity, livelihoods and overall village governance.  With inputs on sustainable harvesting techniques, this initiative could prove that community goverance of forests is possible beyond the tokenistic provisions of JFM.

We should see how we can support this initiative. Even if we cannot muster the financial resources for this year, we can push HADP through the NGO sub-group for this and support just the capacity building(accounting, stocking etc) this year and support the institutional arrangement at the village level. Perhaps eventually, they could register as a producer company.

Archana, 3rd October, 2009