By Aishwarya Bharati, Project Officer, WWF- SML
The Satpuda Maikal Landscape of WWF-India (SML) stretches throughout the lush green wilderness of the Satpuda and Maikal hill ranges. It encompasses a sprawling area of about 152,000 sq. kms. and covers the states of Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Maharashtra.
The hilly, undulating terrain of these ranges are brimming with dense Sal forests that foster a beautiful diversity of wildlife. One such vital green space is the Kanha- Achankmar Corridor that forms important wildlife linkages between Kanha Tiger Reserve in Madhya Pradesh and the Achanakmar Tiger Reserve in Chhattisgarh. The corridor is home to various species of flora like Mahua, Char, Mueseli, Mahulpatta and fauna like Leopard, Sloth bear, Gaur, Wild boar, Golden jackal, among others.
Moreover, the area also boasts of the presence of the Baigas and the Gonds, two prominent tribal communities that have lived in this landscape for many centuries, relying on the forests for livelihood through the provision of various Non-Timber Forest Produce (NTFP) such as Mahua (Madhuca longifolia), Amla (Phyllanthus emblica), Tendupatta (Diospyros melanoxylon), Bahera (Terminalia bellirica), Harra (Terminalia chebula), Bael (Aegle marmelos), Honey etc. This has served as a livelihood option for the people living on the fringes of the forest areas by providing them alternative sources of income.
Collection of wild honey through traditional methods is one of those many sought-after sources of livelihood that the people have been practicing for generations. Traditionally, the honey collectors would use fire to subdue the bees, while in some cases they would hack down the branches of the tree to procure honey from the hives. The whole process of extraction not only led to wasteful killing of the bees but also caused the collectors to get stung during extraction. After going through the tedious effort to extract the wild honey, the product was then sold by the collectors in the local haat (villagemarket place) at the rate of Rs. 90 to Rs. 100 per kg or sold to the middleman at the village market.
Therefore, in order to protect the honey bee colonies (Apis dorsata), and to provide support to the honey collectors, WWF-India initiated sustainable methods of collecting wild honey for forest dwelling communities in Kanha-Achanakmar (KA) Corridor. The project started in 2014 with identification of traditional honey collectors, mobilisation of the beneficiaries and providing them with the capacity building training, initial formation of collector groups and finally the formation of a unified Samiti (Honey collector’s group) – the Maikal Sahad Sangrahak Kalyan Samiti (MSSKS).
MSSKS was founded in the year 2014. Today, it has a total of 33 members coming from four different villages of Mungeli District of Kanha-Achanakmar Corridor. These 33 collectors have been trained through capacity building workshops and are now collecting honey through a sustainable collection method. This ensures that they protect themselves from the bees and in turn protect the honey bee colonies from being destroyed.
The samiti members have also been provided with continuous capacity building training on book keeping, leadership management, thus building their capacities in accounts maintenance. The samiti, with support from WWF-India and the Chhattisgarh Forest Department, has received organic certification for the collection and storage process from CGCERT (Chattisgarh Certification Society, India).
It was in 2014 that the samiti started the sustainable collection of wild forest honey. The total collection in the first year was 210 kg and 245 kg in the second year.
While the collection of wild honey was increasing each year, the rates kept fluctuating between Rs. 100- 150 per kg. Realising this, WWF-India began to support the samiti with a matching fund of Rs. 40,000 to procure the honey directly from the collector groups, and thus store and market the product in bulk.
In order to ensure that a fair rate was provided for the honey collected, stored and marketed in bulk, the samiti also collected Rs. 500 from each member for a corpus as matching fund.
Soon enough, the samiti was able to procure the honey collected by its members and store it to meet excessive demands. In the meantime, WWF-India also facilitated the samiti in identifying a good market to sell their honey and helped in formalising a partnership between MSSKS and Honey and Spice (H&S), a company based in Bangalore.
The Samiti then sold the honey to Honey and Spice (H&S) at a profitable rate of Rs. 400 per kg. Moreover, it was decided that from the total profit earned, 60% will be distributed among the members and 40% will be saved in the samiti’s account.
Overall, the initiative was able to ensure that each honey collector involved in the process, could earn at least Rs.500- Rs. 7000 in a year, therefore adding a little bit of sweetness in the lives of the people who collect it!
The seed funding for this project was supported by Canara HSBC Oriental Bank of Commerce Life Insurance Company.