‘Van Dhan’ scheme rolled out by TRIFED will allow entrepreneurs to profit from engagement in tribal commerce while providing a social service
If there is any true start-up that is patiently waiting to be started up in a big way, it is trading in tribal merchandises. This is yet to be fully recognised as a key sector of our national economy. When it earns such focus, corporate houses will turn their vision to the skill and talent literally hidden in our forests. Tribal Commerce in India will then get mainstreamed by providing the missing links, namely funds, value addition, branding, packaging and marketing of tribal products in partnerships with tribal entrepreneurs. This is the message that 'Van Dhan' wants to spread. This cannot wait any further. Given the new-age love of moving forward and fast, tribal India is a greenfield waiting for true entrepreneurs in trade, industry and ethno-tourism to join hands with.
What does 'true entrepreneur' connote? Alfred Sloan perhaps had the answer. He felt that to rise to extraordinary heights in business and industry, you need to possess an extraordinary capacity to take along a large number of people. That perhaps would sum up 'Sabka Vikas'. When such an entrepreneur enters the domain of tribal merchandise, there is no need for funds to fulfil this social responsibility. His very business will play out social responsibility, because, even as he grows rich, he would positively impact the lives of hundreds of amazing producers of amazing products. This is the message that needs to be put across to corporate leaders.
The present thrust of TRIFED relates to enabling an equitable deal for the tribal forest gatherers in the trade of non-timber forest produces (NTFP). NTFP includes tree-borne oil-seeds, leaves, flowers, fruits, kernel, forest-honey, and medicinal herbs. This is an area of huge volume and value. Traditionally, this field was dominated by unscrupulous, exploitative middlemen who almost killed the goose in their greed for the golden egg. TRIFED was born to correct such exploitation. It has tied up with 23 State Governments for procurement and processing of the locally available NTFP. The procurement is done entirely by nearly 5000 tribal SHGs, mostly women. These groups not only gather NTFP they also do the primary processing.
This new thrust is focussing on the processing of NTFP at the local level because this helps optimise income to the gatherer. 'Value-addition' is the mantra that TRIFED has been humming into the minds of tribal NTFP gatherers. To this end, a scheme known as 'Van Dhan' i.e., the wealth of forest has been launched. 3000 common facility centres are being raised for processing of the NTFP. Hill-grass brooms unit in Mon district, Nagaland and marking-nut processing unit in Malegaon, Maharashtra, are in full operation. These are tribal start-ups on way to catapult tribals into the marketing of their product directly. As of now, 921 tribal start-ups in 20 States of the country have been set up (involving over 2 Lakh tribal entrepreneurs). They will be the catalysts to the bigger push to involve almost 45 lakh tribals into this venture.
A food division in TRIFED, called TRIFOOD, is working on new and innovative end-products to set up a factory outlet at Jagdalpur in Chattisgarh and Raigad in Maharashtra at a cost of Rs 11 crore in partnership with Ministry of Food Processing & Industry, Government of India to process custard apple; mahua tonic drink; honey, etc. The idea is to lift the products from low, un-remunerative markets to upstream markets.
TRIFED owns and operates the Tribes India chain of showrooms across India. There are one hundred seventeen such showrooms and outlets, showcasing thousands of products made by dexterous tribal hands. It is not about sales or trade, it is about a fair deal to the tribes who constitute over eight per cent of our population. While the whole world is established in a cash-based economy, our tribes cannot survive in a cashless primitive economic order. They also need cash and they deserve an equitable deal in the world of commerce. 'Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.' In the case of tribal India, you do not really need to teach them to fish, they already possess the skill, you only need to help them trade their surplus fish and processed fish products in a market that gives them a fair and equitable deal.
What is the volume of commerce involved? TRIFED estimates that the products that emerge out of the tribal cottages are worth over Rs 20 billion a year. And this does not include minerals or timber which are nationalised resources. The estimate includes only non-timber forest produces and a countless number of hand-crafted merchandises: Fabrics, jewellery, artefacts, furniture, pottery, metal-craft products of the vanishing wax technology, paintings, a number of natural organic foodstuff and herbal beauty and healthcare products sourced from the pristine forests of Central India, the North-eastern States, the Himalayan mountains and the southern peninsula. The handicrafts in the outlets of Tribes India make for perfect gifts and corporate give-aways. The prices range from a few hundred rupees to a few thousand. Shopping at Tribes Outlets implies an act of social service. Just by shopping there, you encourage a tribal artisan toiling in some obscure cottage in some remote forest parish. We have at the moment barely touched the tip of the huge iceberg of tribal-sourced commerce. The time to act big and scale-up is now.
The identification of artisans apart from the 5 lakh artisans already listed will be done by TRIFED through Tribal Artisan Melas (TAMs), organised across India. Any tribal artisan can walk into the mela and publish his work to access thereafter the national market through the Tribes India network.
Adi Mahotsavs are trade festivals in large cities organised not only to market tribal handicrafts but also to provide a platform for tribal artists to showcase their music and dance. Adi Mahotsavs provide a total experience of ethnic immersion in tribal India.
Keeping pace with modern shopping habits, Tribes India products are also available online on e-commerce platforms. TRIFED is proactively encouraging small, medium and large entrepreneurs (tribal and non-tribal) to enter the field at the retail, wholesale and processing levels. Any entrepreneur can become a franchisee of Tribes India and 'serve even as you earn.' In effect, TRIFED provides hand-holding support to the tribes on the one hand and the entrepreneurs, on the other hand, to help build sustainable, mutually beneficial partnerships.
TRIFED has been collaborating with professionals, corporates and non-governmental organizations in its efforts to promote tribal products. Ritu Beri, fashion designer; Srijan and Girijan Cooperative (GCC) are some of the new associates.
Mary Kom, as the brand ambassador of TRIFED, is delivering the right punch. Clearly, a new sector is unfolding with opportunities that beckon entrepreneurs who like to think new and who believe commerce can include social service.
The author is the Managing Director of TRIFED, Ministry of Tribal Affairs, Government of India. Views expressed are strictly personal.