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Mrs. Rekha SINGHAL
Indian Institute of Forest Management, BHOPAL

(not available in French & Russian)


Harvesting of NWFP is considered as a major conservation strategy because it reconciles both conservation and development. Its concern is reflected in focus on product, people, and forest. The present Indian Forest Policy (1988) and the subsequent Government resolution on participatory forest management (1990) emphasize the need of people's participation in forest management. It has been widely recognised and accepted that under people-oriented forest management Non-Wood Forest Products (NWFP) play a significant role in sustaining interest and motivation of local people. Women and children constitute the majority of NWFP gatherers in India.

The present paper aims to improve our understanding about the role and potential of harvesting of NWFP in improved conservation management for livelihood of local people and sustainable forest management. To this end, the role of NWFP in sustainable forest management by facilitating participatory forest management is discussed. In this regard, the role of gender in harvesting of NWFP is illustrated through a case study. Finally, the paper provides a framework of integrated NWFP harvesting.

1. Introduction

Non-Wood Forest Products (NWFP) were formerly known as minor forest products, other forest products, other economic products and non-timber forest products because of their little contribution in the state and forest revenues. Agenda 21 and forest principles adopted at the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) held in Rio de Janeiro in 1992, identified forest products other than wood as an important area requires increased attention, as a source of environmentally sound and sustainable development. Over the past two decades, an increasing number and variety of organisations, such as government, non-government institutions as well as private sector have become involved with promotion and utilisation of NWFP and its effects on sustainability of products as well as forest. It is now widely recognised that NWFP plays an important role for local communities in and around forests. The focus of this paper is to improve our understanding about role and potentials of harvesting of NWFP in improved conservation and management for employment and income generation of local people. In this context, the central role-played by the women in sustainable harvesting of NWFP for increased socio-economic status is highlighted.

2. Background

India supports about 16 percent of the world's population and 18 percent of world's livestock with nearly 2.5 percent of the world's geographical area (329 million ha) and only 1.8 percent of the world's forest area. Due to its physiographic and climatic conditions as well as its location at the confluence of three bio-geographic realms - the Indo-malayan, the Eurasian and the Afro-Tropical - India is a “mega diversity”, and has ten biographic zones: trans-Himalayan, Himalayan, India desert, Semi-arid, Western ghats, Deccan peninsula, Gangetic plains, North-east India, islands and coasts (Rodgers and Panwar, 1988). These biographic zones presents a broad range of ecosystems resulting in a variety of NWFP species.

Box 1: Some facts and figures about NWFP in India
  • There are over 3000 species of NWFP in India, which are integral components of local economy and culture.
  • There are approximately 500 million people living in and around the forests whose survival can be said to be dependent on supplementary income from NWFP. Seventeen percent landless depend on daily wage related to collection of NWFP. Over 50 per cent of the revenue earned by the forest department come from NWFP. Its growth is generally 40 per cent higher that timber (ICFRE, 2000).
  • At the National level over 50 percent of forest revenue and 70 percent of forest export revenue comes from NWFP mostly from unprocessed or raw material (Tewari and Campbell, 1997; Prasad, Shukla and Bhatnagar, 1996).
  • On an average, over 40 percent of state forest revenues and 75% of net forest export income comes from NWFP (Sehgal, 1998)
  • Seventy per cent of NWFP are collected from the five states of Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Bihar, Orissa and Andhra Pradesh. These states also contain 65 per cent of tribal population (In Planning Commission, 1998).
  • Small scale forest based enterprises many of which rely on NWFP, provide upto 50 per cent of the income for about 25 per cent of India's rural labour force.
  • Sixty per cent of the NWFP collected are consumed as food or as a dietary supplement by forest dwellers. They serves as a crucial element in the livelihood system of forest dwellers. The percentage of income realised through sale of NWFP varies from state to state and is estimated to range from 5.4 per cent to 55 per cent (Khare et al, 2000).
  • Women's employment in forest based enterprises is estimated to be approximately 571.533 million days annually of which 90 percent is in small scale enterprises using NWFP (Khare, 1987)
  • The two main cash earners among NWFP, Sal (Shorea robusta) seeds and tendu (Diospyros melanoxyion) leaves, are collected primarily by women. It is estimated that more than 350,000 tonnes of tendu leaves are harvested annually by 600,000 women and children (Kaur, 1991).

3. Patterns of NWFP Harvesting/Collection and Trade

NWFP plays a dual role in forest dwellers livelihood and subsistence products to meet daily and seasonal needs and to cover demand in years of poor harvest. At the same time, commercial NWFP contribute to cash economy of household. Even though NWFP are largely seasonal products, returns from them are relatively continuous for marginal rural people and most importantly for women and children. The ecological survey indicates that there is considerable variation in distribution and density of specific species. Table 1 presents collection period of some of the common NWFP.

Table 1: Collection/Harvesting period of some of the common NWFP
(After Gupta and Guleria, 1982)

NWFPMonths of Collection
Mahua (Madhuca latifolia)            
Neem (Azadiercta Indica)            
Karanj (Pongamia Pinnota)            
Kusum (Schliechera Oliosa)             
Sal seeds            
Khakan seeds            
Gums & resins            
Tendu Leaves (Diaspyros Melanoxyion)            
Imli (Tamerindus Indica)            
Tasar (Cocoon)            
Wild Fruits            

Although the above table does not cover all the NWFP but it may be noted that people get multiple product throughout the year to meet their needs. Traditionally, the collections of NWFP have been by the local people and of low intensity. However, the increased economic significance may result in destructive harvesting. Therefore, a number of state governments have taken control over selected NWFP by nationalising, resulting in dual trading system of NWFP as depicted in Figure 1.

Figure 1

Figure 1: Dual Trading System

A central hypothesis underlying the nationalization of NWFP is that commercial harvesting of NWFP may provide an incentive for destructive harvest. Therefore, the state governments have taken over the control of selected NWFP. For example, in Madhya Pradesh, tendu leaves (Diospyros melanoxylon), sal seeds (Shorea robusta), harra (Terminalia chebula) and gum are controlled by Madhya Pradesh Minor Forest Produce (Trade & Development) Federation through Madhya Pradesh Vanopaj Adhiniyam, 1969. Similarly, in Rajasthan and Orissa, tendu leaves are controlled by state through Rajasthan Tendu Leaves Act, 1974 and Orissa Kendu Leaves (Control of Trade) Act, 1981, respectively. On the other hand, resin and resin produce are under the state control in Himachal Pradesh under Himachal Pradesh Resin and Resin Produce (Regulation of Trade) Act, 1981.

The broad objectives of state controlled NWFP trade (Prasad, 1999) are:

Before the nationalisation of NWFP, people could sell them to any one but under the new system, trading is controlled through state owned institutions such as state forest development corporations, federations, cooperatives tribal societies or state appointed agents only.

4. NWFP for Forest Management

The Indian Forest Policy of 1988, elaborated in the 1st June, 1990 notification on Participatory/Joint Forest Management (JFM) calls for a sharing of responsibilities and benefits with the local community living in and around forest land. Managing forests to promote NWFP offers a promising approach for meeting this community-based forest management. Forest management to achieve sustainable management requires to optimize multiple product to meet the objectives of various stakeholders. So far, only Madhya Pradesh has taken the step of ploughing back the entire revenue from the nationalised tendu leaves (Diaspyros melanoxyion) to primary cooperative societies of NWFP collectors and Panchayati Raj Institutions. Whereas, Andhra Pradesh has decided to share 50 per cent of such revenue with Van Samrakshana Samiti (VSS) formed for JFM.

NWFP are one of the keys to successful JFM (Prasad, 1999). In a study on analysis of success and failure cases of JFM in Madhya Pradesh, it has been found that in successful JFM committees, people perceive increase in NWFP as one of the major outcome of participatory forest management (Singhal, 1999). This increased NWFP provides them regular supplementary income and employment during lean agricultural period, thus play crucial role in maintaining and sustaining the motivation of the people in participatory forest management. Thus, in contrast to timber based approach, a non-destructive NWFP based approach may be more sustainable from ecological, economic, and social perspective for forest management.

5. Investigating People- NWFP Relationship: The case of Sauther

A detailed investigation was carried out to analyse the inter-relationship between people and NWFP in the village Sauther. The village Sauther is situated 48 kilometres away from Bhopal, the state capital of Madhya Pradesh. It is about 7 kilometres from Chiklod Forest Range Office. In 1994–95, JFM committee was constituted in the village Sauther. Following the Madhya Pradesh JFM Resolution, one male and one female member from each household became the members of the Village Forest Protection Committee. Gonds tribe predominantly inhabits the village with 144 households and total population of 799. There are 15 landless families and the average landholding for each family ranges from 2 to 3 hectares. The village is connected with muddy road for a distance of 3 kilometres from bus stand, hospital, market and other infrastructure facilities. The committee was allotted a total of 1065.8 hectares of forestland in three patches for conservation, protection and management.

Participatory rural appraisal methods were used for assessing used pattern, harvesting and socio-economic cultural traditions related to NWFP. There are three sources of livelihood for the people of Sauther, viz., agriculture, NWFP and occasional labour. The area is completely rain fed and therefore the agricultural productivity is at subsistence level. Traditionally, these villagers had been collecting NWFP from these forest patches. The commonly found and collected NWFP are given in Table 2.

Table 2: Pattern of NWFP

Vernacular nameBotanical namePeriod of CollectionMethod of Collection
MahuaMadhuca latifoliaMid March – Mid AprilGathering from forest floor
AcharBuchanania lanzanllatifoliaAprilPlucking with twigs
Tendu Leave & Fruits (Diospyros melanoxylon)Diospyros melanoxylonMayPlucking
Safed MusliChlorophytum tubersumAugustDigging by Iron rod
Kullu - GumSterculia urensApril – MayGumosis
Grasses September – JanuaryGrazing and cutting

It may be noted that the NWFP are available to the people Sauther through the year and are collected and harvested by local people by different methods. Table 3 presents use pattern of NWFP in the village Sauther.

Table 3: Use pattern of NWFP

NWFPCollected byUsed PatternAverage collection per family
MahuaMostly by women and children2/3 for selling and 1/3 for self-consumptionAbout 250 – 300 kg. annually
AcharMostly by menSelling10 kg. annually
Tendu Leave & FruitsMostly by women and childrenLeaves for Selling and fruit for self-consumptionAbout 1800 bundles annually
Safed MusliJointly by men and womenSelling8 – 10 kg. annually
Kullu GumMostly by menSelling4 – 5 kg. annually
GrassesMostly by womenFor cattle feedingApproximately 10 kg. Per day

5.1 Resource Use Assessment

It was found that over the years, the collection of Achar (Buchanania Lanzanllatifolia) and Safed Musli (Chlorophytum tubersum) has reduced substantially over the years. However, the collection of Mahua (Madhuca latifolia) and Tendu (Diospyros melanoxylon) is relatively same over the period.

5.2 Socio-Economic Pattern

Following the cultural tradition of Gond tribes, the people of Sauther has a tradition of worshipping the tree before initiating collection of Mahua. This worshipping of tree is organised at the community level. As indicated earlier, due to lack of irrigation facility, the agricultural productivity is only at the subsistence level and hardly provides any cash income. The analysis of the income from various sources revealed that out of the annual cash earning per household, about 46 per cent cash income comes from selling of NWFP. However, in case of landless families, about 50 per cent annual cash income comes from sale of NWFP.

5.3 Gender Roles in Harvesting of NWFP

It was found that women play a dominant role in harvesting of NWFP. The most common method used by them is by sweeping and gathering from forest floor. It was estimated that out of total collection of NWFP, up to 80 per cent of the NWFP is collected by women alone. It was also noted that productivity of NWFP collected by women and children is stable over the years.

In conclusion, it was found that NWFP is an essential resource for the people of Sauther for their survival as well as meeting socio-economic needs. Recent institutional changes through JFM activities have resulted in increased value and consciousness about method and level of NWFP harvesting. Although, there is an increasing pressure from neighbouring villages due to economic values of NWFP, but women are playing active role in setting of do's and don'ts related to harvesting of NWFP through JFM committee.

6. Towards Integrated Model Sustainable Harvesting

On the basis of experience of Sauther, it is apparent that besides ecological and economic factors, there is need to pay attention to the socio-cultural traditions (Figure 2). As stated earlier, sustainable harvesting of NWFP combines concern for product (value), people and forest (Figure 2).

Figure 2

Figure 2: Integrated Model of Sustainable Harvesting of NWFP

The above case demonstrates that women play the central role in household economies of local communities as well as non-destructive harvesting of NWFP. Consequently, efforts of achieving sustainable forest management through participatory forest management should focus on the scope of NWFP development by involving women. In this process, the identification of socio-cultural traditions should also be viewed as an essential step.



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