COVID-19: Minor forest produce scheme can come to tribals’ rescue, say experts

The scheme provides fair price for minor forest produce through minimum support price  

By Ishan Kukreti
Published: Tuesday 24 March 2020
Medicinal plant Karra. Source: Wikipedia

The Union government’s ‘mechanism for marketing of minor forest produce (MFP) through minimum support price (MSP) and development of value chain for MFP’ scheme can offer respite to forest-dependent labourers in the wake of novel coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak, according to experts.

The scheme, launched by the Centre in August 2013, provides fair price for MFP collected by tribals through MSP.

At the time of the launch in 2013, the estimated outlay was Rs 967.28 crore from the central government; states had to pitch Rs 249.50 crore towards capital and revenue expenditure.

MFP comprises all non-timber forest produce of plant origin such as bamboo, brush wood, stumps, cane, tussar, cocoons, honey, wax, lac, tendu or kendu leaves, medicinal plants and herbs, roots, tubers, etc, according to the Forest Rights Act, 2006.

Almost 60-70 per cent income of forest dwellers depends on collection and sale of MFP, according to the tribal affairs ministry.

Recent estimates by Tribal Cooperative Marketing Development Federation indicated that the trade value was approximately Rs 20,000 crore for 55 economically important MFPs.

The scheme has been scaled up since its inception — between 2016-17 and 2018-19, Rs 60 crore was released for its implementation.

However, experts said the money was lying with the states unutilised.

“In Odisha, total fund available with the state government was over Rs 90 crore till February 2018-end. This included interest earned from the bank. At the same time, the expenditure has been only Rs 3.71 crore, i.e., six per cent of the amount,” said Giri Rao, who works with the tribal communities in Odisha.

“The scheme has not been activated because in most cases, states have not given their 25 per cent share,” said JV Shamra of the Energy Research Institute.

“State governments can use scheme to tribal labourers' benefit. The bonuses from the tendu patta sale, which are sitting with the state governments and are disbursed around August, can be given now. This would ensure that people have money in their bank accounts. The government can then ensure that food is available in the markets,” said Sharadchandra Lele of Ashoka Trust for Research in Ecology and Environment.

Rao added that most migrant labourers returned to their villages for plucking tendu in April-May. However, most of them went back early due to COVID-19 outbreak.

“The money from MSP for MFP scheme can be used to help them,” Rao said.


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