At Nelakottai in Pandalur taluk, nine tribal women entrepreneurs have taken the first step toward ensuring a sustainable livelihood for their family by selling small forest produce at a reasonable price.

The Nelakottai Kattunayakan Women's Cottage Industry Co-operative was founded by women from the Kattunayakan community in Achchutham Moola in Kottayamedu to sell minor forest produce such as honey, greens, yams, spices, vegetables, and medicinal herbs that they harvest from the forests that they have relied on for generations.

B. Sujatha, a 30-year-old community member who is involved in the programme, claims that they have been taken advantage of by various non-governmental organisations and business enterprises, which would buy food from the community at extremely low prices.

“As many male members of our community are addicted to alcohol, the forest produce the community harvested, including honey, was sold at extremely cheap rates to private individuals,” said Ms. Sujatha.

She also added “As women from the community wanted to earn a livelihood and not depend on our spouses to spend on running the house and supporting our families, we decided to set up the co-operative to ensure that we have collective bargaining rights so that the produce our community gathers receives a fair price.” 

Sobha Madhan, a tribal activist from the Kurumba adivasi community and district co-ordinator of the Nilgiris Particularly Vulnerable Tribal Groups (NPVTG) Federation, is assisting the community in establishing the initiative with the help of conservation NGO, Arulagam.

“Previously, the community of honey hunters and gatherers of forest produce would be given around ₹200-₹300 for a kg of honey. With the setting up of the co-operative, they stand to make around ₹1,000 for a kg of honey, with the benefits being shared with the community,” she stated.

The members who started the initiative hope that it will eventually benefit all 58 families in the hamlet. They also stated that they will strictly limit the amount of forest produce they gather each year in order to ensure that the community's resources are not overexploited.

The project was inaugurated on Thursday by Revenue Department officials in Gudalur, including the RDO, Saravana Kannan, and Pandalur tahsildar, D. Kuppuraj. They assured the members that they would help them market the products in Eco-Development Committee shops throughout the Nilgiris.