TRIFED aims at turning tribal gatherers into entrepreneurs: MD

TRIFED Managing Director Pravir Krishna speaks to PSU Watch about the role that TRIFED is looking to play in Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Aatmanirbhar Bharat initiative
TRIFED aims at turning tribal gatherers into entrepreneurs: MD

New Delhi: Talk of tribal livelihood development, tribal skill development or tribal commerce, the one name that surfaces prominently is TRIFED. The nodal agency operating under the Ministry of Tribal Affairs has done exemplary work during and after the COVID lockdown for tribals. In the past year, TRIFED has started several initiatives to sustain the livelihood of tribals and has also made sure to prop their businesses up during the difficult period of the Coronavirus lockdown. The past few years have been especially crucial for TRIFED as, during this time, it has changed the face of tribal development and livelihood. What is the role that TRIFED is looking to play in Prime Minister Narendra Modi's Aatmanirbhar Bharat initiative, TRIFED Managing Director Pravir Krishna tells PSU Watch:

What meaning does the clarion call by PM Modi for 'Aatmanirbhar Bharat' hold for TRIFED?

We at TRIFED are made for it. The entire structure of TRIFED and the way we work is made for Aatmanirbhar Bharat, and for the tribals to be aatmanirbhar or self-reliant. Around 1 crore tribals gather forest produces from the jungle, non-timber forest produces and sell them in the nearby market. TRIFED, as an organisation, works to empower them by promoting their marketing and business processes. For example, tribals make wonderful handlooms and handicrafts, the best in the world. But the problem with them is that they cannot market it well and fall into the clutches of the middlemen. Something that can be sold for Rs 5,000 in Delhi, they sell the same for Rs 200 in the village haat (market). The lack of access to large markets makes tribals liable to be cheated by middlemen who swamp the tribal ecosystem. So, TRIFED's role is to give them good prices, fair prices, remunerative prices and turn them into entrepreneurs. See, any business has four steps — gathering (of the forest produces or the raw materials) then processing and value addition, then packaging, branding and marketing. Of all these steps, tribals only gather and process or add value to raw materials. The rest of it is done by us. 

This is what TRIFED is doing through Van Dhan — value addition, packaging, marketing and making large markets accessible to tribals

So how do you prevent tribals from falling into the clutches of middlemen?

TRIFED is trying to facilitate tribals in gaining access to a better market and fair price, without middlemen. And how do you attain that? When a tribal does all the four things as part of a value chain. If they do only one thing, they get only 20 percent of the final price. Let me explain that with the example of tamarind — a forest produce that grows abundantly in the jungle. The Forest Rights Act (FRA) has given him rights over all forest produces, except for timber. Now, this tamarind is sold for Rs 20 to Rs 30 per kilo in a local haat. The government has introduced a minimum support price (MSP) of Rs 45 per kilo. So now middlemen will have to buy it for Rs 45 per kilo? This is one benefit. Now, if you remove the seed and thick fibre of tamarind, it will be sold for Rs 200 a kilo. Further, if you process the same into a dried powder or make tamarind sauces and chutney, it will be sold for Rs 600 to Rs 1,200 per kilo. Just bottle it, package it and market it well. So if you process a kilo of tamarind with an input cost of Rs 150, the same is sold for Rs 600 to 1,200, for which the tribal was getting Rs 30 per kilo earlier. This is what TRIFED is doing through Van Dhan — value addition, packaging, marketing and making large markets accessible to tribals. This is how the producer, the tribal gets 70 percent of the value chain. The same is the rationale behind Aatmanirbhar Bharat. We are making tribals self-reliant by creating an entire value chain for them.

Under Mera Van Mera Dhan Mera Udyam, our approach is to create a systematic process of development of means of livelihoods, while keeping the tribal culture intact

Krishna with PSU Watch Editor Vivek Shukla

Tell us more about the skill development and employment generation programme 'Mera Van Mera Dhan Mera Udyam'?

Yes. TRIFED is working as the national nodal agency under the Ministry of Tribal affairs for executing skill development and employment generation programme, which is a national-level umbrella programme, converging the Scheduled Tribe Component (STC) of various ministries. The government enacted the Forest Rights Act, 2006 (FRA) to empower tribals living in the forest with various privileges, including minor forest produces (MFP). The act recognises the dependency of tribals on forests and that the protection of the rights of tribals in forests is the key to their emancipation. That is the reason why facilitating gainful employment of tribals through regeneration, plantation, development and harvesting of forest produces is the need of the hour.

At present, 1,205 VDVKs are in place and involved in their mandated activities, benefitting 3.7 lakh tribal households

The idea behind the plan is to raise the living standard of tribals and bring it at par with the rest of society through skill development in the areas of their strength. The scheme aims at covering 50 lakh tribal households in the next five years, ie about 10 lakh tribal households every year. This will cover the entire forest-dwelling tribal population (50 percent of 10.4 crore tribal population living in forested areas of the country). Our approach is to create a systematic process of development of means of livelihoods, while their culture is preserved intact. Their development has to be along the lines of their genus and avoiding the imposition of alien values. As I mentioned earlier through examples, TRIFED is successfully executing the 'Mera Van Mera Dhan Mera Udyam' programme for tribals across the country, tripling and quadrupling their income through skill development, value addition and convergences.

How has the journey of the Van Dhan programme been so far? And where does TRIFED plan on taking it further?

Fantastic. And I don't think I will be exaggerating if I say that the Van Dhan programme has been a game-changer in improving tribal commerce and their livelihood since its inception. TRIFED spearheaded the implementation of the Van Dhan programme in 27 states and 307 districts with the availability of MFPs and significant forest-dwelling tribal population. The collection and sale of MFPs contribute 40-60 percent of tribal annual earnings and further "value addition" helps in tripling or quadrupling their income. Through Van Dhan, a scalable and replicable model has been created last year, tribals have been organised into 1,126 Van Dhan groups covering 3.4 lakh households, facilitating financial support of Rs 15 lakh per Van Dhan Vikas Kendra (VDVK) for training and capacity building, distribution of equipment and toolkits, gathering of cultivation and value addition, branding and packaging, food safety and quality certifications and marketing of MFP products. At present, 1,205 VDVKs are in place and involved in their mandated activities, benefitting 3.7 lakh tribal households. It targets to benefit 50 lakh tribal entrepreneurs in gathering and gainful value addition supported by strong branding and marketing, providing them with a sustainable livelihood.

In phase 2, TRIFED aims to expand the 'Skills Development and Micro entrepreneurship programme', which is integrated with Tribal Livelihoods programme, as an umbrella initiative riding on Aatmanirbhar Abhiyan, 'Go Vocal for Local' initiatives, as well as other programmes of ministries. The program will be centred on establishing a sustainable model to ensure fair monetary returns to tribals whose majority income comes from MFP collection. This will be achieved by promoting self-help group-based micro enterprises and clustered Van Dhan producer companies for primary processing, value addition, storage, packaging, transportation, branding, marketing etc. Further, to enhance the overall economic activity and quality of life for tribals, initiatives which focus on the development of infrastructure for economic activities, programmes that yield round-the-year income for tribals through convergences etc, shall be taken up.

An e-marketplace for tribal entrepreneurs as an omnichannel sales platform, operating through TRIFED outlets, own retail/wholesale channels and on all e-commerce portals, has also been put in place. 

The story first appeared in a special issue magazine of PSU Watch on Atmanirbhar Bharat, which was published on October 30. 

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