The forests of Arunachal Pradesh harbour a rich bounty of flora, many of which are also commercially highly valued species of non timber forest produce (NTFP), mainly medicinal, aromatic, and spices plants. The Monpa tribe is resident, in the western part of the state and the community is highly dependent on the forests and its natural resources for their livelihood needs. The local community enjoys de facto custodianship of the forests and share strong religious ties with and place immense cultural value upon their natural surroundings.

 In exercising their rights of collection of NTFP, whatever is collected is sold in local markets, or to traders, this is mostly done in an unorganised manner. In the absence of a proper mechanism, however, the potential value of these NTFPs has remained untapped, and their price uncertain. Moreover, there is little or no control over the amounts being harvested. The economic benefit of local villagers through the sustainable collection of NTFPs can provide a strong incentive to ensure long term durability of the Community Conserved Areas, which the villagers have demarcated and notified for the conservation of natural resources over which they have traditional rights.

© WWF India

As part of the strategy to ensure economic benefit to villagers managing the Mandala Phudung Khellong Community Conserved Area (MPKCCA), WWF-India, Sony India and the G B Pant Institute of Himalayan Environment & Development are working together to explore the potential of NTFPs collected from the CCA area. Of the six NTFPs identified as having market potential Khagei or Zabrang (Zanthoxylum sp.) has been prioritised to develop a sustainable collection protocol and establish the market linkages at pilot scale.

Zanthoxylum, locally known as Khagei or Zabrang, is an essential condiment in the Monpa dominated area of Western Arunachal Pradesh. It is part of the local diet and used as chutney and pickle. "We were selling Zabrang in local markets or to traders. Prices varied between Rs. 200 to Rs. 500 per kg. With this new initiative, we will be receiving a fair rate on the collected products," said Pem Choijang from MPKCCA.

In 2017, after an assessment of the availability of Zabrang in the wild and the amount that could be collected sustainably, WWF-India commenced its efforts to establish market linkages. Based on the evaluation which was discussed and endorsed by the MPKCCA, locals collected 6734 kg of Zabrang. Through several stakeholder consultations, a linkage has been created with a leading FMCG company. To ensure that a fair rate is provided for the NTFP collected, the MPKCCA management committee and the company agreed to formalize a partnership under the guidance of the Bomdila Forest Division, Government of Arunachal Pradesh and WWF-India. A mechanism to ensure proper sharing of benefit among the villagers with the inclusion of corpus from the total earning was prepared in consultation with villagers and members of the CCA management committee.

For the legal trade of NTFPs, a transit permit is issued by the Arunachal Forest Department, in addition to an ad-valorem of Rs. 31 per kg, which is paid by the MPKCCA management committee. This amount has been included in the price negotiated with the FMCG company for the collection and transportation of Zabrang to its unit in Tezpur, Assam. In order to streamline the collection and transportation, the WWF-India team also held a  number of consultation meetings with the divisional forest office to have a single transit permit issued to the management committee instead of individual permissions.

Kamal Medhi, Coordinator of WWF-India’s Western Arunachal Landscape, said, "Roles and responsibilities, such as Zabrang collection from each household, storage, and transportation of products to the unit, have been defined among the stakeholders. A system for price negotiation has also been created to ensure fair transactions between the community and the company."

The collection of Zabrang was organized between October and November 2019 in the settlements of Phudung, Dungmanba, Menchang, Khellong, and Pampu Kheri. A total of 119 households of all settlements under the MPKCCA collected 6734 kg of Zabrang. The MPKCCA Management Committee then sold 6395 kg to the company at a rate of INR 475 per kg. The remaining Zabrang has been retained for local consumption. After the delivery of the first consignment of 4000 kg, the total earning of 119 households was Rs.18 lakhs in addition to the ad-valorem payment to the forest department and management fee of MPKCCA. The second consignment of 2200 kg will be ready for delivery by the end of March 2020. It will provide an additional income of Rs.9.9 lakhs to 119 households and Rs. 4000 as corpus to the management committee. With a total earning of Rs.27.9 lakhs, the households will make an additional amount of Rs. 24,500 per household.

© WWF India

In a historic first, for the state of Arunachal Pradesh, communities have marketed and sold NTFP collected from their forests through a legal mechanism. With the development of market linkages between community institutions and a prominent company, this partnership is being highlighted at various platforms, including the State Wildlife Board meeting chaired by the Chief Minister, Govt. of Arunachal Pradesh in January 2020.

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