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Shri PRAVIR KRISHNA, IAS
Managing Director, TRIFED

Under the exceptional superintendence of Shri Pravir Krishna, Managing Director -TRIFED, the organization is paving the way forward by leveraging his clear vision and unbiased approach. With his heartfelt appreciation for the tribal art and culture, each activity of TRIFED is being executed in a result-oriented manner only to ensure maximum returns in terms of ascertaining respectable livelihood earning mechanism for the tribal population of the nation.

Tribes constitute over 8.6% of the Indian population, a substantial number by itself. But their importance goes way beyond this number. They are the ‘art and soul of India’. 

While tribal handicrafts, tribal music and tribal dances are well-known and widely admired, what gets overlooked and is not widely known is their contribution to the mainstream economy. The brooms that clean our homes and offices are made from the hill-grass harvested by tribal women of North-east and Central India. 

Numerous food items, from honey to spices to condiments, we relish every day, we owe to the tribes! Did you know that the butter obtained from sal-seeds gathered by the tribes in Chhattisgarh, Odisha and Jharkhand have been used in some of leading chocolate brands? Some of the top-end soaps and shampoos use the fat of myriad tree-borne oilseeds gathered from forests. 

The booming industry of Ayurvedic products would crumble if one subtracts the tribal contribution from it. Tribes in India have been the unrequited custodians of environment as they have a symbiotic relationship with forests: forests have survived largely in tribal intensive parts of the country. Belonging to an old order, a world gone by, tribes have been largely vulnerable in their interactions with the outer world. 

Gathering non-timber forest produces (NTFP), also called ‘minor forest produces’ has been their occupation since times immemorial. Earlier, this was for their own use. Subsequently, NTFP became a source for meeting their cash needs. Today, it is the cornerstone of tribal economy. 

Yet, the truth is that the tribes are far from getting their due share from this activity. While there are many reasons for this, primarily it is because the  bulk of the NTFP moves out of the tribal world in unprocessed form and the tribes lose out on the benefits of the subsequent value addition.  This trend needs to be reversed. The guiding principle for future must be: whatever can be done locally must be done locally. Whatever can be done must tribal hands must be done by tribal hands. The tribes’ “ownership” of the forest produces must be lifted from the symbolic level to actual level. 

Tribals have their own economic ethos and are a set of very skilful people who have a set of life skills which helps them survive in the most dire circumstances - where all of us cannot live or survive more than 7 days. They are extremely skilful people who can take care of themselves, who can do wonders, who can produce the most wonderful things. They're skilful craftsmen. But the only problem that they have is they are very poor marketing people. So the two lakh crore product that they own, gets them not even 10 percent of the total value chain. So that is the problem and if we can address that, we would have solved the problem of this section of people. 
Because they lack the skill of marketing, because they lack the skill of retailing they fall prey to predatory middlemen. Middlemen in business is not a bad term but in the tribal ecosystem, in the tribal commerce system, it becomes predatory when what it worth say, Rs 1000 is bought and sold for Rs 200 or even Rs 100, and sold at the tertiary market the next second at Rs 5000.

To protect the tribes from distress sale of their produces, Ministry of Tribal Affairs, Government of India, has launched the Van Dhan Yojana. I am certain that VanDhan Yojana will be a major landmark in livelihood generation and will at least treble the income of India’s tribals through processes of value-addition, packaging, marketing and retailing of tribal products. 

This is also where TRIFED comes in! Under the VanDhan scheme, TRIFED aims to activate 50,000 “self-help groups” that enable tribals to participate in over 70 per cent of the value-chain processes. The VanDhan Yojana which I've told you about is setting up 50,000 self-help groups spread across the forested areas, where village primary and secondary level manufacturing will be encouraged, promoted and instead of raw materials, they will sell finished products. So this is the magic that we are planning to take to the country. This is a 4-step process.

For the present, the tribal is doing just the gathering. The rest of the enterprise is being done by somebody else. A little training and a little promotion, and a little encouragement will take them to the next level. TRIFED will also provide the tribal communities with a brand of their own, under which they can take ownership of the products they create.