The Van Dhan programme is bridging the livelihood gap by boosting entrepreneurship in tribal clusters through countrywide Van Dhan Vikas Kendra clusters
Scheduled Tribes constitute over eight per cent of our national population. While half of these tribe-folks live outside tribal areas, the remaining still live in their native habitat. Most of these are forest dwellers. In exact terms, around five crore tribals live in their native environment. The guiding principle of the Government's economic development policy is inclusive development or sabka vikas. While much has been done for ST members who have migrated to the mainstream, the livelihood issues of the tribes-folk who have chosen to stay in the traditional forest habitats are yet to be adequately addressed. There exists a big gap. Evidently, there is an absence of a comprehensive plan to promote income-generating entrepreneurial activity. Van Dhan seeks to address this 'gap'.
Non-timber Forest Produces (commonly called 'Minor Forest Produces', or MFP) have been called "Van Dhan", meaning van ka dhan; and it rightfully belongs to the tribals residing in the forest. MFPs have major importance in the economy of tribal societies. MFPs are a major raw material for corporations in the food, pharmaceuticals and FMCG industries. Annually, around Rs 2,00,000 crores worth of MFP in raw form is gathered by the tribals and traded in the weekly haat bazars. However, the income accruing to tribal gatherers in the above business is far below what may be called fair. They are getting around 20 per cent (the rest passes on to middlemen), whereas they deserve at least 60 per cent of this amount. If MFP and market-led allied activities are strengthened, tribals can become prosperous in their own habitat in the shortest time span. MFP provides the best livelihood opportunity in tribal areas as tribals have natural, traditional skills and knowledge regarding forest produces.
The gathering of MFP from the forests and the primary processing of MFP at homes is done mostly by womenfolk. Strengthening MFP is, therefore, a sure way to women empowerment in tribal areas. The Government has designed a holistic model of MFP-led Tribal Development in mission mode. Tribals have been made legal owners of MFP in their areas. Minimum Support Price (MSP) has been announced for several MFPs. The Ministry of Tribal Affairs has been emphasising the processing of MFP locally to generate more employment and income for the tribals in their villages. TRIFED is spearheading this programme for processing and value-addition of MFP in well-equipped common facility centres, to be called Van Dhan Vikas Kendra. The programme has been named Van Dhan Vikas Kendra Yojana (VDVKY).
TRIFED, with state partners, is setting up Van Dhan Vikas Kendra in strategically located villages to develop clusters as focal points of growth. It has already made remarkable progress in the implementation of VDVKY. After intense interaction with 27 state governments over the last two years, TRIFED has sanctioned 37,304 VDVKs in tribal clusters. The VDVKs have been subsumed into 2,224 VDVK clusters. With this, 6.67 lakh tribal forest gatherers are being onboarded under the programme out of the targeted one million tribal households, impacting the lives of 50 lakh tribals.
This plan has proved to be a boon during pandemic times with dwindling livelihoods for the marginalised. With good planning and implementation, TRIFED and its state agency partners in 27 states have brought out a paradigm shift in the programme outcomes. It has proved to be a friend and elixir for the needy tribal gatherers. The revamped MSP for MFP has directly transferred almost Rs 3,000 crores to the bank accounts of 25 lakh families through thousands of MFP VDVK clusters set up in the tribal hamlets of the states over the last two cycles of MFP.
More than 30,000 VDVKs, subsumed in over 2,000 VDVK clusters, ie the value addition, branding and marketing arm of the plan in states have now begun operations in right earnest. The VDVK SHGs in all the 27 participating states have begun producing almost 500 varieties of products. This is in addition to the almost 25,000 varieties of handlooms and handicrafts produced by tribal clusters of the country. TRIFED markets these 130 tribes India outlets and dotcoms, and by state and corporate retail chains throughout the country to the tune of Rs 450 crores over the last two years. And, this is just the beginning.
The call to "Be Vocal for Local, Buy Tribal" to create an "Atmanirbhar Bharat" will be the driving force for this. It is aligned to the Government's guiding principle of "Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikas" and PM's sankalp to set up, 50,000 VDVKs in the country to promote enterprise through value addition and marketing of tribal products. The Mission will be centred around the message of Mera Van, Mera Dhan, Mera Udyam. The constitutional obligations under the provisions of the Panchayats (Extension to Scheduled Areas) Act, 1996 and the Forest Rights Act, 2006 to empower tribals living in the forest areas will be fulfilled. The district-level interventions will also take into account the One District One Product (ODOP) strategy aligned to the Ministry of Food Processing Industries.
Two mega MFP processing projects in Jagdalpur, Chhattisgarh and Raigad, Maharashtra — of the 100 such units planned for the country — are at advanced stages of completion. The enterprise approach under the mission will provide economies of scale and help in fostering tribal entrepreneurship on a large scale with the participation of NGOs, creating tribal-owned and tribal-managed production units while leveraging all existing funds and resource pools. The mission envisages setting up of 200 Van Dhan Producer Companies under TRIFED with a network of 3,000 MFP collection centres in haat bazaars, 600 godowns under MSP for MFP scheme, setting up of 200 mini TRIFOOD units and 100 Common Facility Centers, setting up of 100 TRIFOOD parks within 275 (1) districts and DMF, development of 100 embellishment (SFURTI) clusters under MoMSME, setting up of 200 Tribes India retail stores and building e-commerce platforms for TRIFOOD and Tribes India brands. The requisite approvals for the mission are under process with an outlay of Rs 2,400 Crores for the next five years i.e. FY 2021-22 to FY 2026 and soon should provide the engine for a big boost to tribal commerce.
The writer is the Managing Director of TRIFED, Ministry of Tribal Affairs, Government of India. Views expressed are personal