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Forest-based activities in four Panchayats of Vishakapatnam district

Forest-based activities in four Panchayats of Vishakapatnam district

Description of the Panchayats

Sovva Panchayat is an interior panchayat bordering Orissa state and is 21 km away from the nearest road. The 21 villages in the panchayat are all tribal with a total population of 4,193. Some of the tribal groups are Bagatas, Valmikis, Nookadoras, Malis, and Kutias. Elevation in this region varies from 750 to 900 m. There is neither electricity nor drinking water facilities and the valley has no paved roads. The reserved forest here is completely degraded. Tribals depend on agriculture and vegetable cultivation. Shifting cultivation (podu) is extensively practiced on hill slopes.

Hills that were once forested in Sovva Panchayat

In contrast to other tribal areas, the people of Sovva have very few forest-based activities due to the absence of forest cover. They face extreme shortages of fodder, fuelwood and timber. Women walk a distance of 10-12 km twice a week for firewood. A frequent source of fuel in this region is the dung cakes prepared by the women. The practice of using dung cakes for fuel is unusual in the tribal regions of the Eastern Ghats. Livestock is taken to neighboring regions in search of fodder. Women and children are primarily responsible for grazing the cattle. To obtain construction timber, the tribals travel anywhere from 30 to 120 km. To procure grass for thatching, they travel to the neighboring state of Orissa which is a day's walk For medicinal plants and herbs that are widely used in the villages, medicine men travel for at least two months in the forests more than 100 km away. Approximately 70 percent of all the work is done by women and female children. This includes work related to agriculture, forest produce collection and domestic chores. Men are primarily responsible for plowing the fields and carrying vegetables to the shandy (weekly market).

About 95 percent of the population in Borra Panchayat are identified as tribal people. The elevation of this area is 750 m. The panchayat comprises fourteen villages with 200 families and a total population of 1,900 people. The tribals in this area belong to Bagata, Kutia, Nookadora and Valmiki tribes. The demarcation of reserve forest falls close to the inhabited villages and is a source of conflict between the tribals and the forest department. Tribals use the forests as sources of NWFPs, fuelwood, housing materials, medicinal herbs, water and irrigation, and for grazing their cattle, hunting and charcoal making.

Weekly market (shandy) in a tribal village, Vishakapatnam district in Andhra Pradesh

Several different NWFPs in Borra Panchayat are collected by tribal women such as adda leaves (Bauhinia vahlii) used for sowing plates, karaka (Myrobalanus chebula), usiri or amla fruits (Emblica officinalis), tamarind (Tamarindus indica), nalla jeedi or marking nuts (Semecarpus anacardium), kanuga (Pongamia glabra), jack (Artocarpus heterophyllus), and mango (Mangifera indica). It is very labor intensive to collect many of these forest products. In the case of adda leaves and tamarind, women play a major role in collecting, drying, packing them into baskets and carrying the processed products to the shandy. Stall feeding of cattle is not practiced in this area. Men take the cattle out for grazing and travel anywhere between 4 to 10 km from their villages. For firewood, both men and women travel 2 to 3 km once every two days. Women, however, spend more time collecting dry twigs and logs whereas men fell trees and take them back to the village. It is women, however, who go for firewood collection, especially during the agricultural season when men are busy plowing the fields. It is not uncommon for women to gather wild tubers and roots while collecting firewood.

Salugu Panchayat is an interior pocket of the Paderu Mandal. The altitude in this region ranges from 600 to 900 m. The panchayat consists of 24 villages and hamlets belonging to different tribal groups like the Bagatas, Valmikis, Nookadoras, Kondadoras, Konda Kammaras and Khonds. The total population of the panchayat is 2,500. Apart from paddy, agriculture is primarily on dry land. Minor cereals, millets, pulses, redgram, and oilseeds like niger and castor, are the main cash crops. Shifting cultivation is widely practiced in this panchayat.

Collection of NWFPs is widespread in the villages of Salugu Panchayat. The area has rich natural forests consisting of mango, tamarind, jack, custard (Annona squamosa), lemon, cleaning nut or induga (Strychnos potatorum), karaka, kanuga, gum karaya (Sterculia urens), adda leaves for plate making, rosewood (Dalbergia latifolia) and bamboo. Tamarind is collected by men and women. On average a family earns Rs. 200 to 600 (US$ 6 to 18) per tamarind tree. In this area, tribals collect NWFPs nine months out of the year. Women collect adda leaves and may spend 7 hours a day collecting the leaves when they are in season. These leaves are dried for 2 days, packed into 50 kg shoulder loads for men and 30 kg for women to be carried to the weekly market. A shoulder load of leaves fetches anywhere between Rs. 50 (US$ 1.50) and Rs. 120 (US$ 3.60) depending on the season and quality of the leaves. Each tribal household requires 20 to 25 headloads of firewood for cooking and keeping themselves warm in the winter. While women gather fallen branches and twigs, men cut trees for firewood. Cattle are taken up to 5 to 6 km into the forest for grazing. Children and women graze the cattle 20 days per month and the men take the cattle out the remaining 10 days. It is not uncommon for women and children to collect NWFPs while they are out with the cattle in the forest.

Sarugudu Panchayat is closer to the plains but is one of the better forested areas. The panchayat has 16 villages with a population of 600 families. Tribal groups include Bagatas, Kondakapus, Konda Kammaras, Konda Doras and Valmikis. The elevation in this region varies between 150 and 450 m.

The forest-based economy is vibrant in and around Sarugudu Panchayat. NWFPs gathered include tamarind, gum karaya, marking nuts, honey, kanuga, cleaning nuts and soap nuts (Sapindus emarginatus). Households depend on NWFP collection for 6 months in a year. Gum karaya is very lucrative as it fetches a good price (US$ 4.00 per kg) at the government sponsored cooperative. While women are primarily responsible for collecting most of the forest produce, it is men and boys who are responsible for cattle grazing. Collecting forest products for construction and maintenance of houses is the responsibility of both men and women, whereas women collect all of the firewood.

It is evident from the description of forest dependence in these four panchayats that tribal household survival is inextricably bound to forests. This is so even in areas where forests have receded. Moreover, it is the women and children who transform the forests to meet both subsistence and income needs of a tribal household. Women and children in all of these panchayats engage in NWFP and fuelwood collection to a greater extent than men. Men, on the other hand, are primarily responsible for house construction and agriculture. Much of the collection of NWFPs, fuelwood and fodder is undertaken in forests and common lands adjoining the villages. When forests and commons are highly degraded, as in Sovva Panchayat, women and men travel long distances to obtain the necessary fuel, fodder, food, and medicinal plants.

Where forests and commons are degraded, enormous additional burdens are placed on women and children. From comparisons of the different panchayats, there is a positive relationship between the level of forest degradation and the amount of time and labor expended by women and children in collecting forest produce. Exploratory data also indicate that women and children engage in NWFP collection for a greater portion of the year in these degraded areas. The duration of NWFP collection ranges between 6 and 9 months out of the year. NWFP collection is seasonal and contingent on the availability of the product, but the data from this region indicate that the wide array of NWFPs provide some form of subsistence or cash for a greater part of the year (Table 1).

Pressure on the forests in this region is increasing, but left with few alternatives for sustaining their livelihoods, tribals expend ever greater energy and resources in collecting increasingly precious NWFPs. The rapid decline in forests and village commons in semi-arid regions has eroded sources of supplementary income for women. In the face of these pressures, it is critical to give women greater say in the control and use of village forests and commons because they tend to fare better under common property resource regimes, where the rights are more egalitarian between genders, than in privatized property regimes where men have more control (Agarwal, 1994a). Forest co-management strategies that fail to engage women in the use, control and management of village forests place women in a precarious situation vis-à-vis forest resources. In spite of all the pressures, women will still continue to rely on forest resources, but the absence of their rights and responsibilities to control and use these resources will make them vulnerable and leave them without options against competing claims.

Table 1. Seasonal Calendar of Activities in the High Altitude Tribal Areas of Vishakapatnam District, Andhra Pradesh, India


Agriculture Activities

Forest-related Activities



NWFP collection (flower of Madhuca indica, fruit of Tamarindus indica)


Maize and Millet cultivation

NWFP collection (adda leaf- Bauhinia vahlii)


Maize and Millet cultivation, Rice cultivation

NWFP collection (adda leaf- Bauhinia vahlii)


Maize and Millet cultivation, Rice cultivation

NWFP collection (adda leaf- Bauhinia vahlii)


Maize and Millet cultivation, Rice cultivation

NWFP collection (adda leaf- Bauhinia vahlii)


Rice cultivation Niger oil seed cultivation

NWFP collection (adda leaf- Bauhinia vahlii)


Rice harvesting Niger oil seed cultivation

NWFP collection (fruit of Strychnos potatorum, fruit of Emblica officinalis)


Chilly cultivation Niger oil seed cultivation

NWFP collection (fruit of Strychnos potatorum, fruit of Emblica officinalis)


Niger oil seed cultivation

NWFP collection (fruit of Strychnos potatorum, fruit of Emblica officinalis, fruit of Semecarpus anacardium)


Niger oil seed cultivation

NWFP collection (fruit of anacardium) Myrobalanus chebula, fruit of Strychnos potatorum, fruit of Emblica officinalis, fruit of Semecarpus



NWFP collection (fruit of Myrobalanus chebula, flower of Madhuca indica, fruit of Strychnos potatorum, fruit of Emblica officinalis, fruit of Semecarpus anacardium)



NWFP collection (fruit of Myrobalanus chebula, flower of Madhuca indica, fruit of Tamarindus indica, fruit of Strychnos potatorum, fruit of Semecarpus anacardium)

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