4.1: Brief summary
4.2: Major issues and constraints
4.3: Recommendations/future directions
The collection and processing of uppage fruits and the craft of lacquerware represent two very different forest-based small scale enterprises that involve women in India. The case studies illustrate the dynamic nature of FBSSEs as they respond to changes in markets, technology and social systems. In both instances external changes have helped these FBSSEs expand, opening up increased employment and income generating opportunities. However, changes in these FBSSEs have not distributed income and opportunities equally to women and men. In one case women benefitted because they were able to sell as much uppage rind as they could collect; but they were not able to rise above the lowest economic rung in the new profit ladder that developed. In the lac-turnery industry women were actually displaced or marginalized. Each case raises questions about the roles new technology and institutions play in the process of environmental and industrial change.
With the expanded market for uppage rind, more people have entered into what was a traditional occupation of the women from a Brahmin sub-caste in a fairly localized area. Collection and processing of uppage rind has become seasonally attractive to women (and landless men) of other castes and social groups. Middlemen, including local collection agents and regional contractors, have become involved as intermediaries in a complex marketing chain. While new opportunities for women have been created, access to uppage has become more restrictive, rights to collection are now auctioned and bid for, no longer granted free of charge. Most significantly women remain at the lowest link of the value added chain, the lowest common denominator in terms of income earned. Men have filled the profitable openings.
The current success of the lacquerware business stems from three external sources: a long history, of institutional support and training by a number of national and state organizations; the expansion in export markets; and the introduction of new technology in the form of electric lathes. Yet women, who have traditionally played an important role in lacquerware processing, have been kept out of the growth process. They have not been successfully reached by institutional support and training, which has meant they have not been able to utilize electric lathe technology. Their traditional local markets have been flooded by cheaper, more durable plastic substitutes. Distant factory settings, especially far from rural homes, are dominated by men. Depending on their socioeconomic and location-specific background, women have either been forced to abandon lacquerware in favour of a less highly skilled household-based FBSSE, or have had to struggle for a low, subsistence level wage.
The importance of household socio-economic factors
Commercialization stimulates competition/attracts men
Increasingly organized collection restricts access
Access to technology is often unequal
Changes in technology may displace women
Institutional support and training frequently favour men
Increasing impact on the natural resource base
Given the background of overall growth coupled with the marginalization of women, a number of key conclusions with respect to women's role in FBSSE, emerge:
- household and location-specific socioeconomic factors play a key role;
- commercialization stimulates competition, attracts men & may sideline women;
- increasingly organized collection restricts access to raw materials;
- access to technology is often biased;
- change in technology, especially mechanization, may displace women;
- institutional support and training frequently favour men;
- increasing utilization threatens the natural resource base.
FBSSEs are sometimes most useful for women precisely because they can be undertaken as an extension of household activities. They can potentially increase income and empower women by giving them flexibility and added control over their livelihood with the household as the economic base. This underlines the importance of understanding the social, cultural and economic realities at a household and community level.
The problems facing women in changing FBSSEs are critically moderated or exacerbated by the socioeconomic and cultural factors that prescribe their economic activities and geographical constraints. Women's labour and economic contribution are undervalued in practically all social systems. Women frequently occupy a low wage niche and are often constrained by culturally enforced divisions of labour, prescribing domestic and production functions around the home.
The social systems in which uppage collectors and the lacquerware workers operate are male dominated. Throughout the region there is a conspicuous difference in the wage rates of men and women, even for the same job. Uppage was collected and consumed locally as part of the traditional gathering function assigned to women. Their traditional role in subsistence activities with low wage earning potential explains women's predominance in plantation systems like coffee, tea or cocoa. Uppage collection is identical to other low value forest product collection systems. As in traditional feudal systems, the local landlord or trader is inevitably the local collection agent for processed uppage, acting as a controlling link between collectors and the market. By providing supplies from a store or deducting payments from past loans, the landlord/trader can effectively ensure that collectors barely enter into the cash economy.
Increasing commercialization, which occurs as markets develop and expand, stimulates competition from non-traditional groups and often attracts men. With the commercialization of uppage rind, women from a number of different caste and social groups and a number of men have begun to actively collect and process the fruits. Middlemen and contractors have moved in to control the collection process and extract the profit that have resulted from increased demand. Although the Havyak Brahmin women now have a product with an added cash value, they must compete for it with women and men from other social groups.
Although increased commercial demand for uppage rind has increased the number of people involved and the geographical range of collection activities, it has not significantly increased income levels or altered wage differences. Almost all collectors continue to receive a very low price for the rind they collect and process, denying them the opportunity to increase their basic income level. They can collect and sell more uppage rind making the activity more worthwhile, but their basic hourly income remains at the lowest level.
In the lacquerware industry commercialization led to changes in technology and product diversification. Both of these processes have resulted in a decline in women's participation.
For women at a low income level, constrained by cultural restrictions, it is difficult to take advantage of new economic opportunities for a number of additional reasons. They may be unable or unwilling to take risks. They may have difficulty establishing a network of linkages beyond the rather feudal structures imposed from within the social system. Finally, they may have difficulty making demands on public services/policies.
The administrative procedures governing collection of NTFPs and the sale of raw materials automatically ensure the existence of middlemen and contractors, confining women and marginal workers to a permanent role as collectors and sometimes, primary processors. Because forest land is divided into large management units, women and small household FBSSEs cannot afford to bid in auctions for collection rights. In the uppage case, women with traditional rights cannot afford to purchase new rights and are now consigned to working for contractors on a piece rate basis, paid based upon the amount of rind collected and dried. Similarly, in the lacquerware industry women can rarely afford to buy hale wood in the large quantities in which it is auctioned. The result is that intermediary traders distribute the wood to retailers, increasing the price considerably in the process.
The case study on lacquerware indicates that where new technology is introduced, access is biased towards men, those with some start-up capital and urban dwellers. Higher mobility allows men to participate in training at distant institutions, work outside the home on a more permanent basis and establish contacts with a more extended network of markets. Men, who are regular wage earners, may have better access to initial finances than women, who operate at a more subsistence level.
Linked to this, the lack of certain basic infrastructural services like electricity or piped water is a major hindrance, especially for rural women. It can impede adoption of new technology options like power lathes. Economically women are often at a disadvantage, and may be less likely to be able to procure financing or loans. FBSSEs must be developed in the context of community needs.
Changes in technology or even just the shift from manual to machine technology leads to the displacement of women workers. This happens because as men perceive the higher value generated through new technology they displace women. Such changes frequently alters the conditions which make FBSSEs favourable to women in the first place. Ease and simplicity of operation are replaced by complexity and the need for training. Basic services and support systems (electricity to begin with) are required. The flexibility of time allocation over different work tasks no longer exists, especially where production levels are increased (or when electricity to operate the lathes is only on at certain hours). Higher capital investments may be necessary. And conditions in the optimal workplace may change, to favour factory-based production.
The ability to adopt technology depends on the ability to purchase new technology and the basic infrastructure to operate the technology; money to buy and electricity to operate the power lathe. Where men control finances they may not have a direct interest in investing in these, unless they are directly involved in production. Once the investment takes place, it becomes the main source of income and women are replaced by men, especially when the average earning reaches the level of prevailing wage rates. Where women control finances or have a substantial income source they may be able to exert greater control over such changes.
Primary support to FBSSE's from a number of government institutions seems to be aimed more at the modern sector with an accompanying bias towards men. In the lacquerware case a significant governmental effort was made to stimulate the industry with considerable success. Part of this effort was biased towards men. Simply offering training in selected skills is not enough to ensure that women get a chance to put them to use. Household level entrepreneurs could surely benefit from relevant training in processing, marketing and management, but it needs to be appropriate to the level of infrastructure that is available. Power lathe training is obviously not useful to rural women without electricity, centralized fruit drying units are no good if women must carry the fruit even further than before. Obviously training is not effective for women if training centers are far from home. The centres are practically worthless if they do not teach valuable income generating skills.
When training is available most efforts focus on enhancing women's role as workers. This is inadequate to equip women with entrepreneurial skills, to enable them to organize production, procure raw materials, undertake marketing and accounting, and identify new opportunities. Training is not directed toward offering them the skills to help them adapt to changes in the industry.
Another role of institutions is to provide facilities for production and marketing. The KHDC centre has attempted to do this relatively successfully; however, for the most part males use the power lathes while females continue to use hand lathes and earn less. Interestingly, a majority of the craftspeople at the centre were marketing their finished goods outside of the centre.
Institutional analyses of small scale industries have focussed primarily on the problems of entrepreneurs in new dynamic enterprises, to improve their rapid growth. Most of the FBSSEs in which women play a major role are traditional, often subsistence level enterprises which require a different perspective. It would be extremely useful to have better data on how many FBSSEs are actually owned by women. Surveys in six countries (FAO 1987) showed that, with the exception of Egypt where 65% of FBSSEs (mostly home-based basket and hat weaving enterprises) were female owned, women owned less than 17% of FBSSEs. In Bangladesh, only 3% of surveyed FBSSEs were actually owned by women.
Another institutional issue revolves around the role that organizations such as cooperatives can play in increasing the contribution of FBSSEs to women's income. In the case of uppage collection, the Bakkal Society, a regional dairy and agricultural produce marketing cooperative tried to enter the uppage trade. For a number of reasons the cooperative did not make enough money to continue after the first year (see Section 2.10). Given the factors upon which cooperatives' success is contingent, there is no assurance that cooperative involvement with FBSSEs would benefit disadvantaged groups.
Both uppage and lacquerware workers complained about problems in raw material supply stemming from over utilization and consequently dwindling resources. For lacquerware workers, prices for hale wood have consistently risen. Women feel this is because little effort has been made to protect and regenerate hale trees in forests or to separate hale wood from other timber species at timber depots. In the case of uppage, intensified demand and the consequent increase in numbers of uppage collectors has resulted in over utilization and untraditional harvesting methods. In the production of uppage a considerable amount of fuelwood is used to dry the rind. Green, freshly cut fuelwood may be preferred to dry. This may also stress the forest. More research needs to be done to determine whether more efficient uppage processing technology would really save fuelwood.
Because women's participation in FBSSEs is highest in the rural and household sector, effectively removed from main stream institutional recognition, shortages of raw materials affect their viability. Rural FBSSEs must compete for supplies with larger forest-based enterprises, urban consumers and, often, large scale industries. This is particularly true of FBSSEs that depend on items like bamboo, which was once considered a weed and was in plentiful supply. Competing demands from pulp and paper enterprises have severely depleted resources and institutional subsidies have favoured large industry. Rural artisans have had to pay more than large companies for bamboo. Forest departments have not addressed the need to supply raw materials to FBSSEs except in the case of bamboo and timber. The practice has been to grant concessions to ongoing, traditional, gatherers and collectors. Occasionally, when a product has shown great commercial potential, efforts have been made to raise monoculture plantations. Only rarely have silvicultural techniques for raw material regeneration and management in the natural forest been explored; particularly rare has been research on locally desirable species and materials to expand traditional and provide for new enterprises. As Joshi (1987) says: current (forestry department) efforts, therefore, amount to an exercise in rationing shortages and protecting traditional livelihoods...rather than investing in future forest growth for generating additional livelihoods.
Forest department policies have focused on macro issues of environmental degradation, sustainability, industrial wood and now, fuelwood production. These have resulted in stricter conservation measures, farm and community forestry plantations, and tightened control over licencing and collection of NTFP. Non-timber forest products have been addressed when they are particularly economically important, as in the case of tendu leaves for bidi production. In many cases the forestry department reaction has been to nationalize these enterprises, with the result that state cooperatives often supplant local traders to control collection and marketing. In this context attempts are being made, however, to ensure more equitable wages to collectors and form cooperatives.
Conversations with villagers in these case studies indicate that people are realizing the tremendous losses which result from improper collection and indiscriminate felling, particularly of uppage trees. This awareness needs to be reinforced by giving users the opportunity to have a role in resource management.
There is no doubt that FBSSEs can play a substantial role in improving the livelihood of women and their families. FBSSEs can be especially effective in providing essential supplementary income, often during seasonal periods of critical shortage, creating a bridge between desperation and hope. Successful FBSSEs can go much further, providing women with the opportunity to take positive control over their economic situation.
Continuing growth of FBSSEs involves increased utilization of forest products. Given the tremendous existing levels of extraction and degradation of forest resources worldwide, it is particularly important to ensure that FBSSEs are linked to sustained management of the forest products they utilize. By increasing the access to forest based economic benefits it is hoped that FBSSEs will involve people in their creative management, giving them a stake in the future sustainability of natural resources.