Turning forest produce into a commodity. Sustainable? I guess we need this think this deeper

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.


Thanks for bringing this up, and for thinking about it deeply. For forest produce, for agriculture, indeed for any human activity, the idea of carrying capacity and sensible, sustainable harvesting must be understood if they have to really be a long term win. These cannot be mere words on labels and in presentations. Else, like most human activity, we end up with net negative impact and destruction.


Thank you @SuhasRamegowda for initiating debate around this topic. Agree with @sameershisodia about consumption and impacts across, not only forest produce. There are intresting long term initiatives in your landscape who have been giving this a lot of thought, keystone foundation for example.

Can you take us thought some of your learnings and thoughts on how you look at the economics of this? It would be good to have an overview of how you see the price break up of forest honey for example. Does the costing involve any form of conservation action and how would indegenous communities continue to engage in NTFP collection which is regenerative if possible.

Not engaging is one option and a valid one, my question is how do see engagement at both the consumer and producer end.

Looking forward to hearing your thoughts.


I think economics is what is creating the imbalance @sidsrao. I come from a school of thought that thinks it’s borderline arrogance for us to say we will / can do conservation… at least with the forest. The only way to actually conserve is to stay out of the forest. Indigenous folks can continue to collect NTFP but for their consumption. Not to open it up for the urban markets. There has to be alternate livelihood value chains for the indigenous which also don’t take them away from their traditional way of life.

Many conservationist of the past have been saying that if we remove human activity from the forest, it’ll flourish. I believe forest don’t need us to do conservation. It needs us to leave it alone. I think it’s irrelevant as to how much of the price is going towards conservation action because the damage we seem to be doing by bringing in the economics seems far more than the conservation that we will or can do.

Take the Lantana case, for example. It’s an invasive species (brought to India by the brits) and creating havoc across the country. So some of us said we’ll turn this into an input material for livelihood generation - we’ll make furniture, etc with it. Now it’s a commodity and a source of livelihood for the indigenous in some parts. So, they don’t want it gone ! They go into the forest, chop the sticks and get back… they don’t pull out the stumps. Chopping accelerates it’s growth. They are harvesting … not eradicating. Result of the economics.

I am sure there are other parts of the country dealing with this Lantana issue differently but I am sharing this as an example from what I witnessed visiting a group that has been harvesting Lantana for handicrafts for long. We had explored that too thinking we’ll be solving (hence that visit) but dropped the idea because we figured we’ll be creating another elephant of a problem.

There are also numerous stories locally of how the number of bee hives have drastically reduced over the years. Off course the bees have suffered owing to the climate change but the rise in honey demand and harvesting has only added to their woes.

If I am not wrong, Last Forest which is the marketing arm of Keystone Foundation that sells honey have moved their honey processing unit from here to the plains … I am sure there’s good reason there.

I must also admit that I am no ‘expert’ in any of the above. I am simply sharing basis my experience in the past 6 years that I have been living here in The Nilgiris among the indigenous. My opinions and thoughts have evolved through this experience.


Thanks for that suhas, do keep all of us posted as these evolve. Always good to hear updates from those working with indigenous communities and how this engagement with the market plays out.

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Sure, yes @sidsrao. We are trying different things within the ecosystem that we are building here… with the not-for-profit and the for-profit. The focus now are the women from the communities with craft and commerce being the means. Once this becomes self sustained, we’ll start looking at other streams.

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