A group of women from the Kattunayakan tribal community have set up a new co-op selling forest produce in the Nilgiris district of Tamil Nadu.
The Nelakottai Kattunayakan Women’s Cottage Industry Co-operative was officially inaugurated by officials from the Revenue Department in Gudalur on 13 January. A total of 21 community members including 12 women have been working in the co-op, collecting wild honey from three villages; Kottayamedu, Vilangoor and Nadukkadu.
Men from the tribal community extract the honey which the women procure from them to sell. Sobha Madhan, a member of the tribe and district co-ordinator of the Nilgiris Particularly Vulnerable Tribal Groups (NPVTG) Federation that helped the women set up the unit, was quoted in The New Indian Express saying, “The Kattunayakan community people are experts in honey collection.”
“The tribal women planned to start the unit in 2019, but lockdown restrictions delayed the process. In 2020, they sold honey on a trial basis. Now, it has come into action,” said Ms Madhan.
Through the new co-op, she added, members of the tribal community are now getting a fairer deal on the sale of their honey. “Earlier, we sold honey to private sellers for around Rs 200 to Rs 300 a kg.
“Once the co-operative unit was installed, women procured honey from the men for Rs 600 a kg, and after packaging and labelling, they sold it for Rs 1,000 per kg. They realised that these minor products, with proper marketing, would yield them a good income.”
One of the co-op’s members, Ms Sujatha, told The Hindu they had previously been exploited by various non-governmental organisations and private entities, who would take advantage of alcoholism in the community to purchase produce from individuals at very low prices.
“As ladies from the group needed to earn a livelihood and never rely upon our spouses to spend on operating the home and supporting our households, we determined to arrange the co-operative to make sure that now we have collective bargaining rights in order that the produce our group gathers receives a good worth,” she said.
Ms Sujatha added that the members of the co-op are keen to ensure that the produce harvested from the forest is done in a sustainable way. They plan to expand their range of items to include greens, yams, spices, wild amla, wild turmeric, ginger, and medicinal herbs, and have also been offered distribution opportunities with the Nilgiris Eco-Development Committee shops.