news Sunday, March 08, 2015 - 05:30
Haritha John | The News Minute |March 8, 2015 | 11.30 am IST A hefty fine and a prison sentence are not the only options for authorities in reforming those faulting the laws. When Maravoor, a forest village in Idukki district of Kerala swamped headlines over tribal crimes related to ganja cultivation and sandalwood smuggling, the range forest department urgently needed a way to contain crimes in the area. A practice mostly taken up by the tribals indigenous to the area, the department under the leadership of officer Vinodh Kumar decided the best way would be to gain the trust of the tribals and thus reduce crimes. That is how the idea of a tribal market evolved in November 2014. Since then, the Marayoor Forest office has been turned into a market every Thursdays where tribals sell agrarian goods produced by them. The officers claim that this initiative is a great success as tribals have stopped ganja cultivation and turned to vegetable and dairy farming. Since the forest officers helped them market their products, it became a two-in-one benefit as the tribals helped the government to preserve sandalwood too. “Since the ganja cultivation gave huge profit, almost in all the hamlets tribals cultivated that. The sad part was to arrest them knowing they are uneducated and less aware, that is how we decided to divert their income source and we are successful now” Marayoor Forest Officer Vinodh Kumar said. Products ranging from farm animals, diary products, vegetables, grams and fruits are available in the market. The Thursday market arranged with the help of Vana Samrakshna Samiti  in the Forest office has attracted customers from different parts of the state as the products are completely organic. “Merchants from Ernakulam, Idukki , Alappuzha and many other neighboring districts visit this market on Thursday to buy products” says Rajan a resident of the village. Tribals misused by middle men Rajan pointed that earlier, tribals were widely misused by middle man who marketed their products outside the hamlets. “Many people used to misuse them in ganja cultivation and sandalwood smuggling. And middle-men who market their products had used to take 70 percent of the profit. But now they get 95 % of the profit on the spot” he added. The difficulty, as Vinodh Kumar recalls was the challenge in bringing the tribals back to their traditional cultivation. “In 2011 we realized that if we could support these tribals to enhance their livelihood we can considerably reduce crimes in the forest” he says. The first step of the department was to promote a medicinal plant Kattu padavalam cultivation in the hamlets. “We came to know that some of the middle men used to collect this medicinal plant from them for very low cost. Then we interfered and initiated a direct dealership between the ayurveda companies, which brought them five times more profit than the middle men marketing” That is how a sense of trust began between the tribals and the forest department. The officers had also interfered in many issues relating to the tribals and maintained a good rapport with them. The idea of a Thursday tribal market was formed as an extension of this relationship where all the hamlets diverted completely from ganja cultivation. Another added feather in the cap according to the officer was that this was a successful department initiative - the first of its kind in Kerala. Tweet

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