Marketing tribal wealth

Print edition : July 30, 2004

WITH the increasing worldwide demand for natural products, the Andhra Pradesh government-run Girijan Cooperative Corporation Ltd (GCC), which procures minor forest produce and agricultural produce from the hill tribal people and sells them after value-addition, is looking at markets abroad.

According to a senior GCC official, the Corporation is confident of making a significant headway abroad, with its range of products that includes French beans, cashew, amla, honey, herbs and cosmetics.

As a first step, the Visakhapatnam-headquartered GCC has launched its web site, where it lists its range of products. The idea is to generate demand and then procure the produce from the tribal areas, a practice that marks a break from the practice of procuring the produce and then scouting for a market. According to the GCC official, this can also fetch a better price for the tribal people's products.

The GCC expects a steady market for niger seeds and French beans in the United Kingdom and the United States. Another product it is focussing on is gum, which is said to be of high quality and has a `swelling ability' of 1,300-1,800 points (the gums available in the market usually have a swelling ability of 500 points only).

The institution is particularly confident of marketing a range of cosmetic products that includes sheekakai (soapnut), soaps and turmeric. The turmeric from the tribal area of Paderu, for example, gives high-quality oil.

The GCC also plans to market bio-flocculent products, which have the property of binding atomic minerals and hence can be used to extract uranium from ore. Stychnospotatorum, a seed with high bio-flocculent properties, is grown extensively in the tribal areas of Andhra Pradesh. The National Metallurgical Laboratory at Jamshedpur and the Uranium Corporation of India are engaged in research to extract from the seed the basic substance, which can bind uranium. The GCC has applied for a patent for this product.

Further, with the State Forest Department withdrawing the ban on the procurement of `naramamidi bark', a main raw material for the agarbathi industry, the GCC is looking at this product, which fetches a very high price.

The GCC is focussing on increasing minor forest produce procurement from the tribal people as part of its forest regeneration drive. Some 10 plant species, including gum karaya, mohwa, tamarind, sheekakai and amla, are being distributed in large numbers to the tribal people under this programme.

With the tribal areas of Andhra Pradesh having a wealth of minor forest and agricultural produce, the GCC has the potential to become a major player in the nature-based products market. Said another GCC official: "Our studies show that the tribal areas in the State have tamarind worth Rs.18 crores; French beans worth Rs.45 crores; adda leaves worth Rs.20 crores; and medicinal plants worth Rs.20 crores. We are tapping hardly 10 per cent of the forest wealth."

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