Access to energy for livelihood security

Access to energy for livelihood security

Forest dependent communities rely majorly on Minor Forest Produce (MFP) [1] throughout the year for food and livelihood. A village level assessment conducted by Oxfam India in just 16 select villages across Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh and Odisha indicated that income from sales of MFPs is about Rs. 1.72 – 2 crores annually; highest contribution comes from sale of leaf plates, Rs. 78.5 lakhs approximately.  Despite this, people do not consider MFPs as one of the key source of income because they are not getting the returns equivalent to the effort that is put in collecting them from forests. Value addition at village level is important to increase incomes from MFPs.

Leaf plates and bowls are made with the leaves of Sal tree (Shorea robusta) and Siali creeper (Bauhinia vahilii). Women collect these leaves from forest, stitch them with bamboo twigs and sell a bundle of 100 such plates at just Rs. 60/-. Traders buy these hand-stitched plates and press them in machines to sell in markets. Installing leaf pressing machines at these remote villages is a challenge for want of sustained access to electricity. Some villages are connected with electricity grid but quality of power supply is poor. Some are powered by solar micro-grids which provides electricity for few hours before sunrise and after sunset. These micro-grids are not capacitated enough to take additional power loads of any such machines.   

Oxfam India together with Khoj Avam Jan Jagriti Samiti commissioned a Solar PV integrated leaf pressing machine in Bade Gobra village, district Gariyaband in Chhattisgarh with permission from the Forest Department. Technically, this integrated model is working good. It has been appreciated by Chhattisgarh Renewable Energy Development Agency as an innovation which brought the women together. The 15 membered women self - help group leveraged Rs. One Lakh from Chhattisgarh Rural Livelihood Mission “Bihan”. They invested the sum to procure leaves from neighbouring villages. This group will be sent to Odisha for a proper training on plate making before production commences. Learnings from this model will lead us to a more streamlined collaboration with state government. 

This is just a modest beginning which began with implementation of Forest Rights Act, 2006. The Act not only guarantees rights of ownership, access to collect, use, and dispose of MFPs but also empowers the communities to manage, regenerate or conserve these resources.  Mainstreaming such necessities with a State’s planning will be a long process, however, an initiation has been made in this direction. 

[1] MFP includes all non-timber forest produce of plant origin including bamboo, brush wood, stumps, cane, tussar, cocoons, honey, wax, lac, tendu or kendu leaves, medicinal plants and herbs, roots, tubers and the likes

Economic Justice

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