Turning forest produce into a commodity. Sustainable?

Indian Yards Foundation (IYF) was recently approached by a community asking for help with selling a small batch of honey. This request came from women who already work with them. Women who were up skilled by Indian Yards Foundation and who are now supported by The Good Gift for livelihood. They come from the Kurumba community who are traditional honey gatherers in the Nilgiris. The men go into the forest and gather honey. These communities have been doing this for centuries. 

Wild honey is now a commodity which is in much demand so usually they wouldn’t need help. But, under strange circumstances, they found themselves with this small batch and because they needed money for an exigency they approached IYF for help. They obliged as they already have a platform where a jar of honey could fit in. Given where they are located, they also had plans to introduce forest produce under The Good Gift banner so picking up this honey batch seemed like a natural choice. 

Sunita and Suhas have this habit of going really deep to understand the “why”, “what” and “how” of everything they do, generally with life. So, although they bought this small batch of honey from the community, they couldn’t have made this product a mainstay in their line unless they understood the upstream & downstream impact. They dug deep with their research and what they found changed their outlook towards forest produce.

Forest produce has been among mankind for centuries but, as a medicine or at best, for consumption in moderation. The Kurumba communities too practiced this tradition of honey gathering for self consumption or at best to barter with the other natives. With the advent of modern markets, forest produce has transitioned into becoming a lifestyle product in urban households. 

To create a jar of 450 gms of honey, an astonishing 1152 bees journeyed a staggering 180246 kms, visiting approximately 4.5 mn flowers. And all of this effort by the bees was to store up honey as food for themselves and their babies when the blooms were down or the weather was too cold or hostile for nectar collection. The other inhabitants of the forest including the forest people have been dipping into this reserve and rightly so because they are part of this ecosystem. They are also adding into the ecosystem while taking from the ecosystem. But, urban homes dipping into this ecosystem disturbs the balance.

This doesn’t apply to just honey but all of the forest produce.

The forests have continued to shrink so has the supply but the demand has continued to accelerate like never before. Which obviously is putting pressure on the value chain that is delivering this forest produce onto urban households. "We have friends who market forest produce and we have a few jars of forest honey in our store as we write this. But, that shouldn’t stop us from questioning the status quo … and eventually, doing what’s best for this planet.", says Suhas.

I think it’s important for us to go through this thought process and resist getting carried away by the excitement that comes with “forest produce” as a consumer and / or as an enterprise, resist the urge to use forest produce to solve the livelihood problem. Because we may solve the livelihood problem with this value chain (temporarily) but create a much bigger climate problem. IYF as an enterprise were very excited about this value chain considering where they live but, after this realisation, they are looking at this differently.

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