01, Dec 2018 | Sushmita
For the longest time, the lobby of contractors, bureaucrats, forest department officials and other traders have kept local forest dwellers away from their own work of labour, namely Minor Forest Produce or MFPs, giving them only wages for the work they would do to collect and process forest produce. The profit would inevitably be scooped away by this nexus, which has compelled the forest dwellers, mainly Adivasis to live a life of deprivation.
Things seemed to be changing for the better when the Forest Rights Act, (FRA) 2006 rendered this long standing practice illegal and recognised the right of forest dwellers to own, manage and sell minor forest produce. An estimated 100 million forest dwellers depend on MFP for food, shelter, medicines and cash income. However the forest dwellers in most part of country didn’t have MFP rights except some parts in Maharashtra and Odisha till as late as 2013-14.
CJP is committed to the implementation of Forest Rights Act (FRA) in its entirety. Our consistent work on its various elements namely aiding the process of filing claims, highlighting atrocities on human rights defenders and other advocacy measures have led to small victories. We are keen now, on highlighting the impact of having a good MSP for MFPs on the forest dwelling communities. This article will be followed by series of in-depth articles on forest produce.
In the name of protecting Adivasis from the flux in the market and exploitative traders, state governments have almost monopolised over the trade of many of these forest produce and forest dwellers have struggled to win over their rights to trade in the produce.
It is in this context that the scheme “Mechanism for Marketing of Minor Forest Produce through Minimum Support Price and development of Value chain for MFP”, Minimum Support Price (MSP) for Minor Forest Produce (MFP) was brought in 2013-14 by the UPA government.
The scheme was designed as a safety net for improvement of livelihood of MFP gatherers, by providing them fair price for the MFPs that they collected. It aimed at significantly changing the financial condition of forest dwelling communities living in precarious conditions especially due to the rapid depletion of forest cover and usage of forests for more commercial usage. As per the then functional Planning Commission, MFPs were accounted for 20 to 40 percent of the income of the forest dwelling communities.
Every year, MSP will be decided on the basis of production, market value, value addition and the labour cost. The gatherers will be free to sell other non-nationalised MFPs in the open market if they get a better price. If the market price goes down, the government agencies will procure the MFP on the MSP. Profit made by the procuring agency, if any, will be ploughed back to the gatherers while loss in the trade will be absorbed by the government.
However, in the past four years, especially since the current government came into power, the scheme has seen several fluctuations. In 2016 MSPs of several items were slashed in the blink of an eye, without proper R & D. In 2017 when MSP for some of the MFPs was increased, it came with a set of guidelines, which again proved that in all of it, the end beneficiaries namely the forest dwellers, would eventually be at a loss. Moreover, the guidelines didn’t introduce any mechanism through which the state governments could be held accountable. The guidelines also make it necessary for communities to take extensive surveys, which are hard to undertake even for university students. In the absence of such surveys, it is possible that the forest departments may lament that no appropriate plans exist. All the moves by the government have been made to ensure that eventually the livelihoods of forest dwellers sees a slow and steady corrosion.
|Key features of the scheme Mechanism for Marketing of Minor Forest Produce through Minimum Support Price and development of Value chain for MFP|
Minimum Support Price Scheme covers all non-nationalized / non-monopolized MFPs from the 12 main identified MFPs namely,
- Mahua Seed
- Gums (Gum Karaya)
- Sal Leaf
- Karanj Seed
- Sal Seed
- Wild Honey
- Kusum Seed
- Neem Seed
- Puwad Seed / Chakramard
- Hill Broom Grass
- Guggul (exudate)
- Bael (dried and without crust)
- Palash Kesuda (Flower)
- Shatavari (dried)
- Tamarind (de-seeded).
The Forest Rights Act (FRA), 2006 gave these communities some rights over the forest produce that they were dependent on.
|The Rule 16 of the Forest Rights Act Amendment Rules clearly instruct the state machinery to provide hand-holding support to tribal and other forest-dependent communities to strengthen their forest-based livelihood and get remunerative price out of it.|
Under Section 2(i), the Act defines ‘minor forest produces’ by including all non-timber forest produce of plant origin like bamboo, brushwood, stumps, cane, tussar, cocoons, honey, wax, lac, tendu leaves, medicinal plants and herbs, roots and tubers. Section 3 (1)(c) ensures collection and marketing of forest produces.
The Act again defines that community should have ownership rights over MFP, access to collect, use and dispose the produce that has been traditionally collected within or outside the village boundaries.
Politics of Budget allocations for MFPs
When the scheme started, the share of budget between Central and State government was 75:25. It started with a sum of Rs. 967.28 crore as Central Government share and Rs. 249.50 crore as the states’ share on 2013. However, over the years, funds have continuously dwindled. While on the one hand the budgetary allocation for the scheme which was meant to “develop value chain of MFP” went down, during the same period, the money allocated for “Mechanism of Marketing of Minor Forest Produce (MFP) through MSP went up. The later allocation was made into a separate category called, “Institutional Support for Development and Marketing of Tribal Product” by the time the budget for 2015-2016 was presented.
Over the successive years, in 2014-2015, 317 crores was allocated for this scheme; 307 crores in 2015-2016; 158 crores in 2016 – 2017; and only 100 crores in 2017 – 2018. Even more striking, only three crores was actually spent in 2016 – 2017 – effectively finishing off this scheme.
Though the money for developing organic MFP chains has gone down, the money for developing institutions has gone up, in turn promoting and introducing private players and traders in the system. On the other hand, the prices of some MFPs were drastically reduced on October 31, 2016 apparently due to lobbying and pressure from few market industries. The latest guidelines (issued in 2017) in MFPs even empower the state to completely stop the scheme. Clause 3.1 states that “State is also at liberty to suspend the process of procurement or not to do procurement of MFP at all.”
Various reports and data available indicate to the fact that the progress of the scheme has been very slow.
In 2015, 16 states of Chhattisgarh (Rs. 38.99 crore) and Jharkhand (Rs. 4.73 crore) had done procurement exceeding Rs. One crore. Odisha did procurement of Rs. 9.5 million and Maharashtra did procurement of Rs. 3.1 million. In 2017, 18, Chhattisgarh did procurement Rs. 25.28 crore and Odisha that of Rs. 1.63 crore.
Expenditure of on the scheme has been less than one third of the total allocation.
Through the revised guidelines in 2017, the Ministry of Tribal affairs (MoTA) took the decision to increase prices of key MFPs like Lac (Rangini and Kusumi), Chironjee pods with seeds, Sal seed and Sal leaves. However, it excluded Palash flower (wet variety, whose price was reduced along with 13 other MFPs on October 31, 2016), whose MSP had been fixed at Rs 8 per kg. The reason stated for not increasing the MSP is the lack of shelf life and very few takers. For the remaining 13 new MFPs introduced last year, the prices announced on October 31, 2016 will remain valid till further revision.
The revised rates as per October 2016 had dealt a severe blow to the MSP for MFPs.
The guidelines issued by the government in 2017, provided almost a 10 percent hike since prices had already been lowered for the forest produce in 2016. However, a condition was put that any losses incurred in the process would be borne solely by the state government.
|Name of MFP||Previous MSP(Rs/KG)||Revised MSP(Rs/Kg) on 31st of October 2016||Change in Percentage||New Revised Price (Rs/Kg)||% of hike|
|Chironjee Pods with Seeds||100||60||-40%||93||55%|
|Tamarind with Seed||22||18||-18%||18||0|
Table: Down To Earth
|Rate list of MSP for MFPs (November, 2017)|
|S. No||Name of MFP||Revised MSP ( Rs / Kg)|
|1||Tamarind (with seeds)||18/-|
|8||Chironji Pods with Seeds||93/-|
|10 (A)||Rangeeni Lac||130/-|
|10 ( B)||Kusumi Lac||167/-|
|13||Puwad Seed ( Chakramard)||8/-|
|15||Hill Broom Grass||10/-|
|17||Guggul ( exudates)||700/-|
|18||Bael ( dried and without crust)||15/-|
|20||Shatavari ( dried)||40/-|
|23||Tamarind ( de-seeded)||40/-|
Source: Down To Earth
Process without explanation
The changes in the MSP have been largely without much explanation or any logical reasoning. As per analysts, for the guidelines issued in 2017, “The ministry seems to accept its inefficiency in getting clarity on newly added 14 MFPs and its market in the country in a more scientific basis. It was found dependent on an external agency’s recommendations and approvals when it comes to revisiting the prices again.” In fact, the prices fixed for the newly added 14 MFPs do not go in line with the current market demand. For instance, the Hill Broom Grass is Rs 10 per kg. It is much lower than the prevailing market price in Odisha, Andhra Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand. The local market price of Hill Broom is between Rs 30 Rs 40 and even more in the off season
Despite considerable time since the guidelines, as per reports “there is still not prescribed Fair Average Quality (FAQ) parameter developed for 14 MFP by TRIFED.” This lacuna has ensured that the state procurement agencies don’t procure these MFPs from the gatherers.
The discriminatory attitude towards the Tribals and OTFDs is apparent here as the attitude towards agricultural produce is different. This makes it clear that the government does not really care about the Forest dwelling communities, more so, that it has least understanding about the sustenance and livelihood of these communities.
The MSP for MFPs scheme has immense potential for the growth and development of the forest dwelling communities. The scheme requires careful thought, research and development, political will for implementation and not setbacks. However, the revised guidelines have had a reverse impact. States need to play an active role and not remain a mere spectator. The procurement remains neglected, while the government before elections announced that it intends to increase the MSPs by 40-60 % despite the code of conduct being in force. All this indicates that the lives of forest dwelling communities mean least to the government, except during polls when a sudden realization about the existence of these communities in states such as Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh and Jharkhand, Odisha strikes it.
*Feature Image by Uttam Ghosh, Rediff.com