Forest governance in Central India: The case of the tendu leaf trade in Madhya Pradesh

Introduction: What conservation problem or question does your study address? The harvest of commercial non-timber forest produce (NTFP) is a source of livelihood for an estimated 100-275 million people in India. The trade in the tendu leaf, a key NTFP of Central India and an ingredient in the beedi or Indian cigarette, provides important insights into forest governance from an NTFP perspective. How is the tendu leaf trade carried out in the state of Madhya Pradesh and what are its implications for forests and forest-dwellers?

Methods: What were the main research methods you used? Six districts were covered, three each in the teak and sal-dominated regions between October 2010 and March 2012. Interviews were conducted with 35 functionaries associated with Minor Forest Produce Co-operative Societies. This was in addition to interviews with 22 forest department officials, 7 contractors, and 10 key informants. Household data on NTFP collection was gathered across 125 households. Participant observation was carried out during the tendu leaf harvest season in May-June 2011.

Results: What are your most important results? In 1989, tendu leaf procurement was handed over to 1,947 NTFP co-operative societies, which now organise the tendu leaf harvest and auction it to contractors. There are some advantages of the co-operative process especially in improving leaf-pluckers’ remuneration and developing a successful financial model. However, there are glaring shortcomings, particularly in terms of empowering NTFP harvesters to think for themselves and taking their own decisions.

Discussion: What are your important discussion points and what is the relevance of your results to conservation (if any)? The co-operative societies (i) have been subverted by centralised decision-making, (ii) have focussed largely on the tendu leaf, iii) are oblivious to the ecological implications of NTFP harvest on forest biodiversity. The co-operative model needs to be debated within the existence of its shortcomings as well as in the context of the Forest Rights Act, which provides for a paradigmatic shift in the relationship between forest-dwellers and their natural resources.

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