Impact of COVID-19 on tribal communities

Context – The impact of COVID-19 pandemic on forest community and their spirited efforts to tackle it. 

What are the problems faced by forest community during COVID-19?

  1. Losses of livelihood and shelter-Due to sudden lockdown, the forest-dwelling communities who got stuck in the cities without any support system, shelter, food or water.
  • The lockdown measures have badly affected wage employment for tribal communities.
  1. Lack of health infrastructure– The absence of healthcare facilities in tribal areas posing a serious threat to the tribal population.
  2. Problems accessing the PDS-poor access to public distribution system among tribal people and other traditional forest dwellers during the lockdown.
  3. Loss of forest products collection season– The other major challenge faced by tribal communities during the lockdown was the collection, use and sale of minor forest produce (MFP) with April-June being a peak season for generating their income.
  • According to the Ministry of Tribal Affairs, around 100 million forest dwellers depend on MFP for food, shelter, medicines and having cash with them.
  1. Tribals were not able to get direct cash benefits as they did not have bank accounts or banks were located in remote locations.

What are the government interventions to resolve the situation?

  • Revision in MSP – The Centre recently revised the minimum support price for 49 MFPs to provide relief to tribal groups amid the lockdown. It urged states to speed up procurement operations for MFP
  • FRA title holders are entitled to an additional 50 days of work under employment guarantee schemes.

How forest dwelling communities are braving the pandemic?

Examples indicate that these communities have coped with the crisis with remarkable resilience.

Case studies documented– Local communities and gram sabhas better understand the local complexities than local administrations while dealing with a crisis as presented by COVID-19.

  • In each village, the Community Forest Rights Management Committees (CFRMCs) members identified families that were starving due to no income and provided ration to them.
  • Holistic COVID-19 governance plan– Gram sabhas encouraged local and forest-based food security, thereby preventing crowding in market places.
  • Use of local knowledge– Many communities were able to survive on a diverse range of forest foods during the lockdown as they had been regenerating their natural forests for over four decades.
  • Women played the leading role in the gram sabhas, organising systems to work with social distancing.
  • In many tribal communities, they made face masks of leaves to cover their faces due to non-availability of protective masks in the areas.

Way forward

  • The above examples lead to an understanding that community empowerment, particularly by ensuring tenure security and devolving natural resource governance and management power, can restore ecosystems, create sustainable economies and community resilience to cope with the natural and human-induced calamities such as the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • Government need to learn from these stories of resilience and works towards effective implementation of the FRA.
  • The Centre should provide state governments with adequate financial resources to ensure tribal communities and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers receive cash entitlements.
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