Non-timber forest produce (NTFP) is sometimes referred to as ‘minor’ forest produce, but such description may hide the reality that NTFP actually has a much more important role than timber in providing sustainable livelihoods to people living in or near forests.
As Yellappa Reddy points out, a single fruit uppage (Garcinia gummigatta – its extract is used for reducing obesity) is known to provide the basis of a ` 200 million industry. Reddy, a highly respected former forest officer said that the entire employment problem of the district can be solved on the basis of well planned use of non-timber forest produce. Already about 140 useful types of minor forest produce (MFP) is being collected in the forests of Uttara Kannada, while over 300 types are known to exist, according to studies made by Parisara Sarankshana Kendra. However, such livelihood support of NTFP cannot be obtained from industrial plantations created in the name of promoting forests, but can only be from natural forests.
The Appiko movement, a people’s movement, has consistently supported the priority rights of villagers for obtaining NTFP on a sustainable basis, while opposing the plundering of forests by strong vested interests to whom forest produce has been sold at dirt-cheap rates time and again. At the same time, when there are reports of over exploitation of NTFP harmful for the survival of trees, then Appiko also opposes it.
A very significant potential for sustainable livelihoods exists in Uttar Kannada district specifically, and Western Ghats generally, but unfortunately the source of these livelihoods has been eroded on a massive scale in recent decades. The Appiko movement’s intervention to call for an alternative paradigm of development which emphasises protection of NTFP related sustainable livelihoods and their source (natural forests), is therefore very significant.
Pandurang Hegde is a leading activist and co-ordinator of Appiko movement. Summarising the philosophy of the movement, Pandurang wrote, “Inspired by Chipko, the Appiko movement evolved its own philosophy of conservation and regeneration of natural resources in the tropical Western Ghat region. The Appiko movement coined the slogan in Kannada as Ulisu, Belasu and Balasu. Ulisu in Kannada means, to save, Belasu is to regenerate the forests and Balasu means rational use of the tropical forests.
The coverage of existing natural forests in Western Ghats is very scarce. Good naturally grown forests remain only in the interior hill regions or inaccessible mountain ranges. But there are constant threats to these existing forests from numerous development schemes like dams and infrastructure projects like railways and power plants. These natural growth forests play a very important role in providing water and food security to millions of people in and around the Western Ghats. In order to protect the interests of the communities and forest dwellers, the Appiko movement aims at protecting these remaining forests through grassroots action, creating awareness among the local communities and direct action.
In Belasu, growing the forest, emphasis is on natural regeneration of the indigenous species. And in planting follow the philosophy of five F species. These are Fruit, Fodder, Fuel wood, Fertilizer and Fibre. Thus, forestation is an alternate to the existing logging activity, helping them with a source of income and employment.
The third objective of Balasu is to evolve methods of using the forest and other natural resources rationally, without harming the resource base. To achieve this objective they work with the communities to install fuel saving stoves, solar devices, and bio gas plants to propagate the alternative energy resources.