We recently were approached by a community asking us to help with selling a small batch of honey. This request came from women who already work with us. Women who were up skilled by Indian Yards Foundation and who are now supported by The Good Gift for livelihood. They come from the Kurumba community who are traditional honey gatherers in the Nilgiris. The men go into the forest and gather honey. These communities have been doing this for centuries.
Wild honey is now a commodity which is in much demand so usually they wouldn’t need our help. But, under strange circumstances, they found themselves with this small batch and because they needed money for an exigency they approached us for help. We obliged as we already have a platform where a jar of honey could fit in. Given where we are located, we also had plans to introduce forest produce under The Good Gift banner so picking up this honey batch seemed like a natural choice.
Sunita and I have this habit of going really deep to understand the “why”, “what” and “how” of everything we do, generally with life. So, although we bought this small batch of honey from the community, we couldn’t have made this product a mainstay in our line unless we understood the upstream & downstream impact. We dug deep with our research and what we found has changed our outlook towards forest produce.
Forest produce has been among mankind for centuries but, as a medicine or at best, for consumption in moderation. The Kurumba communities too practiced this tradition of honey gathering for self consumption or at best to barter with the other natives. With the advent of modern markets, forest produce has transitioned into becoming a lifestyle product in urban households.
To create a jar of 450 gms of honey, an astonishing 1152 bees journeyed a staggering 180246 kms, visiting approximately 4.5 mn flowers. And all of this effort by the bees was to store up honey as food for themselves and their babies when the blooms were down or the weather was too cold or hostile for nectar collection. The other inhabitants of the forest including the forest people have been dipping into this reserve and rightly so because they are part of this ecosystem. They are also adding into the ecosystem while taking from the ecosystem. But, urban homes dipping into this ecosystem disturbs the balance.
This doesn’t apply to just honey but all of the forest produce.
The forests have continued to shrink so has the supply but the demand has continued to accelerate like never before. Which obviously is putting pressure on the value chain that is delivering this forest produce onto urban households. We have friends who market forest produce and we have a few jars of forest honey in our store as I write this. But, that shouldn’t stop me from questioning the status quo … and eventually, doing what’s best for this planet.
I think it’s important for us to go through this thought process and resist getting carried away by the excitement that comes with “forest produce” as a consumer and / or as an enterprise, resist the urge to use forest produce to solve the livelihood problem. Because we may solve the livelihood problem with this value chain (temporarily) but create a much bigger climate problem. We as an enterprise were very excited about this value chain considering where we live but, after this realisation, we are looking at this differently.
The recent phrase by Rainmatter, “Walking lightly upon earth” is stuck in my head… it’s among the best articulation of what’s needed now, more than ever.