A certification that changed the lives of this tribal community in Tirunelveli

By Sreemathi MonSep. 06, 2021in Environment and Ecology

A paradigm shift from conventional, monoculture-based and high-profit dependent industrial production to a sustainable, regenerative production system is the need of the hour.

Kaani residents display their products at Uzhavar Santhai at Maharajanagar in Tirunelveli. The Wild Organic Certification helped them sell at Farmers Market. (Photo | V.Karthikalagu)

TIRUNELVELI: At the end of the day, you are what you eat, aren’t you?

While organic farming is in a nascent stage in India, the urban population of the country has made it evident that their quest to make the switch and ‘Go Organic’ would also benefit the agriculture industry. A paradigm shift from conventional, monoculture-based and high-profit dependent industrial production to a sustainable, regenerative production system is the need of the hour.

Unaware of these factors or the monetary benefits that come with organic farming, 47 tribal families together known as Myilar Kaani chose to harvest safe and nutritious food, respecting their age-old agrarian tradition. They have been harvesting organic wild crops and spices in 223 acres of Kalakkad Mundanthurai Tiger Reserve Forest for ages now. However, little did they know that a certificate for their produce could change their lives for better.

Receiving the first wild organic certification for 40 products in the State, the Kaani tribe has started selling the products at Uzhavar Santhai in the city, earning three to four-folds extra income. Products are certified by the Kaani Chairman Velasamy.

Speaking to The New Indian Express, a forest official said that each family residing in Chinna Myilar Kaani Tribal Settlement and Periyamyilar Kaani settlement, together known as Myilar Kaani, have been allocated nearly 1.5 acres to 3 acres under the Forest Rights Act 2006. He said that the tribe’s ideal aim was to harvest the products for their consumption and later put it up for sale to meet their daily expenses, including their children’s education. Without realising the value of the products harvested, they used to carry pepper, honey, amla, coconut, jackfruit, maize, mango, pickles, tapioca products, among others, in jute sacks to Vadasery in Nagercoil and sell them for a meagre price.

One of the residents, Ganesamurthy said, “Most of the products that we bring to the market would go to waste if we keep it with ourselves. Now, we harvest, consume, feed the animals and also bring the produce for sale to earn a living. Months back, we used to sell kilograms of pepper, honey and other products for Rs 100- Rs 300, but now pepper is sold at Rs 900- Rs 1,000 for a kilogram, and other products are costlier based on their market value. This will help our younger generation flourish in the future.”

After the idea of cultivating without chemicals was proposed, the Eco-Development Programme Officer, Ganesan, who joined the Kalakkad Mundanthurai Tiger Reserve in 2018, helped them form a Village Forest Committee to improve their livelihood, said sources.

“People in the tribe were not interested in earning some extra money. We stepped in and got them the organic certification for 40 products grown on their land. After the efforts of Collector V Vishnu and Agriculture Department officials, we were able to get the Wild Organic certification, which is the first implementation in Tamil Nadu and also allowed them to display their produce for sale at Uzhavar Santhai for the second week. While our first harvest earned the tribe Rs 27,000 by just selling pepper and a few other products, they earned Rs 22,000 in just three hours this Saturday. They also earned Rs 10,000 on Sunday for 20 products sold at the market,” said Ganesan.

Market Agriculture Officer Pappathi said that she has never seen many takers for such products at the Uzhavar Santhai but lately people have become more conscious and are demanding organic and natural products.

The Collector said that steps have been taken to open a shop with the Kaani tribe’s produce along with their tribal art. Forest officials also said that these products with certifications will be taken to online platforms for sale soon.

First published by New Indian Express on 9 Aug. 2021

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