Secondary Agriculture – Empowering tribals of Central India

Secondary agriculture which deals mainly with the functionality of agriculture, contributes significantly to increased income and competitiveness of the farmers. With focus on value addition, SRIJAN supported Sahariya tribes in Madhya Pradesh with appropriate advisory service, practical training and linkage with the market, helping them to get better returns.

Secondary agriculture offers a viable option of doubling the farmers’ income and also making agriculture competitive.Functional expansion of hitherto traditional agriculture can be a potential way to increase the income of the farmers, particularly those who are small, landless, and dependent on natural resources like forests for their sustenance. Besides others, utilizing the spare time of the farmer family is one of the potent approaches of secondary agriculture.Alternative enterprise linked to rural off-farm activities has been one of the approaches of secondary agriculture that adequately help utilize existing human resources, technologies, and competencies to create gainful employment and adequate income for the participants.

Self-Reliant Initiatives through Joint Action (SRIJAN), an internationally acclaimed NGO working across many states of central India, has successfully facilitated a better livelihood option through value addition that not only provided Sahariya tribals additional income but also helped in protecting forests in Shivpuri district of Madhya Pradesh. The Government of India classifies Sahariya tribes, mainly found in the districts of Morena, Sheopur, Bhind, Gwalior, Datia, Shivpuri, Vidisha, and Guna of Madhya Pradesh and adjoining Baran district of Rajasthan, as a Particularly Vulnerable Tribal Group (PVTG). Sahariyas are traditionally expert woodsmen and forest products gatherers. Their main occupations are hunting, and collecting and selling gum, catechu, tendu leaf, honey, mahua flower, and other medicinal herbs from forests. A considerable number of Sahariyas are settled cultivators and grow wheat, pearl millet, maize, black gram, and pigeon pea.

Flame of Forest, Palash in Hindi(Butea monosperma), is one of the most common but versatile trees in the forests of the Shivpuri region.According to an estimate, on an average, there are 17 Palash trees per hectare of forest area. Villagers used each part of the tree (like flowers, leaves, seeds, bark, and gum)for income generation. Gum from Palash (kamarkas in Hindi) is a multi-utility product with considerable medicinal and market value. Palash gum has anthelmintic, anti-convulsive, anti-diabetic, anti-diarrheal, anti-estrogenic and anti-fertility, anti-microbial, anti-stress, chemo-preventive, thyroid inhibitory, and wound healing properties. The collection of this gum from trees require special skills, and members of the Sahariya tribe are considered experts in those skills.

As agriculture in the area is predominantly rainfed, villagers do not have any significant on-farm engagement after harvesting their Kharif crops. They use their time in the collection of gum and flowers from Palash trees. Although the entire family is involved, it is the women who take the primary responsibility of Palash gum and flower collection. The productive season for the gum collection is from December to February. The entire process of gum collection is manual and labor-intensive. It requires considerable time and skills to identify suitable trees, cut the tree’s bark, and finally collect the oozing gums. Unfortunately, farmers do not get enough return from their forest-based activities and migrate to nearby cities for employment.

It was the winter of 2019, not even six months since SRIJAN started working with the farmers in the area, it decided to undertake a detailed study of its value chainof Palash gum and its possible role in increasing the income of farmers. The study found a sizable production and market potential (up to 40 crores) of Palash gum in Shivpuri district. Besides the local market (dominated by middlemen), cities like Indore, Neemuch, Delhi, Jodhpur and Vadodara were the other potential markets of Palash gum. The study concluded that the local middlemen exploited tribal farmers by under weighting and under pricing the gum extracted by the tribals. It was possible to provide 20% to 30% additional income to the tribals by linking them to established market channels. The study also found that changes in extraction practices can increase the gum yield.

The Process

SRIJAN joined hands with the women-led Self-Help Groups (SHGs), promoted by the Madhya Pradesh State Rural Livelihoods Mission, which were active in two villages in the Karera block of Shivpuri. With the help of SHGs, it was easier to identify women members who were already involved in gum extraction. A different group of women-gum-extractors, known as the women producer group (WPG),was formed in each village. A team of scientists from the Central Agro-Forestry Research Institute (CAFRI) provided on-site, hands-on training to the members of WPGs on the scientific processes of gum extraction, drying, and cleansing. Simple experts’ suggestions like making more cuts and not the deeper cuts, and cleaning the bark before making cuts made an appreciable difference in the production and quality of gum. These women members were also trained in book-keeping, record maintenance, weight measurement, and price calculations. Their responsible and sustainable practice of gum harvesting helped the community to increase the quantity (by 30%) and quality of gum.

Respective SHGs continued to patronize WPGs and coordinated with other SHGs to establish village-level collection centers (VLCC) in each village. The WPG decided that members will ensure first-level cleaning and drying at their respective homes after collecting the produce from the forest area. After basic cleaning and drying, members sold their produce at the VLCC of their respective villages. During the first year, villagers sold 732 kg of gum.

After the mechanism of gum procurement at the VLCCs was established,members with leadership skills took the lead in selling their aggregated produce. They decided to bypass local middlemen (aggregators) at the village, block, and district levels. Because of training in business negotiations and continuous encouragement from SRIJAN, women members felt more confident and started looking for new markets. With the support from SRIJAN team, the women leaders could reach the gum markets of cities like Indore, Neemuch, Delhi, Jodhpur, and Vadodara, which ensured a 20% higher price for their produce. Because of increased production, higher price, and better organization, villagers could sell 4500 kg of gum during the second year of WPG functioning.

WPGs, in their respective meetings, agreed on a minimum price and quality of gum to be bought from the members. Members decided to distribute 50% of the total profit immediately among the members who have sold their gums to VLCC and keep 50% with the group to meet its expenditure. Members had the freedom to sell their products even in the open market or to the local middlemen if they did not want to sell it to WPG or the product did not meet the WPG’s minimum quality standard.

The story of Dayabati

Dayabati Adiwasi, her husband, and two children lived in Simrra, a village in the Shivpuri district. Owning only 0.5 acres of land, they could grow very little,rely on forests, and work as farm laborers to meet their ends.  Dayabati and her husband collected gum from the nearest forest and sold it to the local buyers at Rs.70-80 per kg.The nearest forest is about 2 km away from the village; however, she had to venture deep into the woods to get gum. On any typical day, Dayabati would get up early in the morning, cook food and leave for the forest to collect gum, only to return in the evening.  On average, she used to collect 3-4 kg of gum in a day.

After she came to know about SRIJAN’s initiatives, she decided to join the Women Producer Group (WPG) and became an active member of her WPG. Because of her interest and leadership characteristics, she was elected as Center-in-charge. She was trained in book-keeping, record maintenance, operation of E-weighing machine, and payments.

In one season (Dec-Feb), she sold 171 kg of Palash Gum in VLCC at the rate of Rs.105 per kg. and could earn Rs.18,847 in 3 months. Because she sold her product to VLCC, she could make Rs.4,275 more than what she would have earned by selling to the local buyers. A happy and confident Dayabati said, “Earlier, I was unsure what I was doing and did what others did. But now, after joining PWG, I know how to get more gum from the same tree, get a higher price for my product, and extract more gum without damaging Palash trees and our forest.”

 The Outcome

It was just two years since tribal women of the Shivpuri district decided to form WPGs; the results have been phenomenal. The WPG movement, which started from two villages, expanded to the other five villages, with membership growing from 70 to 300. The average gum collection increased from 10 kg to 20 kg per member per season. As many new women joined the bandwagon of gum-collectors whose initial contributions were low, the average seemed modest. However, for the founder members of the WPGs, the average contributions increased up to 40 kg per member. This was primarily because of the adoption of scientific methods of gum harvesting, resulting in more gum per tree. Direct linkage with markets bypassing village level intermediaries and improved quality of gum resulted in better price realization (from Rs. 70-80 to Rs. 100-120 per kg), increasing their average seasonal income from less than Rs.1000 to Rs. 4000 – 4500 per member.

Table 1: Performance of WPGs

Activities 2019-20 2020-21
Number of villages 2 7
Number of members 70 300
Area under operation 45 hectares 280 hectares
The average amount of gum sold per member in a season 10 kg 15-20 kg.
The average price received per kg of gum Rs. 70 – 80 Rs. 100 – 120
The average amount of money received per member in a season Rs. 980 Average Rs 4000 -Rs. 4500

SRIJAN’s focus on increasing the efficiency of the value chain of Palashgum had a multi directional impact. The most important outcome was reduced migration. As the agriculture off-season became productive and remunerative more and more farmers started staying in the village. As the primary responsibility of gum collection continued with the women members,SRIJAN organized training for their male counterparts in growing seasonal vegetables. The training focused on the principles of climate-smart agriculture and the use of bio-inputs (like Bijaamrit, Jivaamrit, and ghana jivaamrit). Because of climate-smart agriculture and locally available water, and family labors, they could harvest good returns from vegetable cultivation.  “It is always good to do the labor on our field. Now, we eat food grown in our field. The availability of various vegetables has increased, and it has become cheaper for us,” said Sharda Bai of Radha Rani Mahila Utapadak Samuh, Rajgarh whose family had sold 35 kg of gum last year.

Appropriate advisory service, practical training, and linkage with the market were the crucial components of SRIJAN’s interventions.

SRIJAN’s presence and impact of scientific intervention by the scientists to increase the production and quality of Palash gum had also affected agricultural practices in the villages. The farmers had started talking about the quality of seeds, different crops, and improved fertigation methods and wanted to learn about improved farming practices. “No doubt, the change is palpable, and we are experiencing some improvement in their agriculture practices, even if they are among the smaller and poorer farmers of the country,” said Mr. Sandip of SRIJAN, who was the project manager there.

Exposure to various markets and participation in price negotiation and business discussions had empowered local women leaders.They had started discussing profit, sustainability, and equity in the business. Although the number of such empowered women leaders was still significantly less, their active and meaningful participation in WPGs and SHGs meetings had affected their social and economic status. “Our WPG is new, and we are new to the business, but we are planning to have an FPO (Farmer Producer Company) to scale up our business,” told Dayabati Adiwasi, who is in charge of a VLCC in Village Simmra. Encouraged by this success, SRIJAN had plans to replicate the model in the rest of the blocks of Shivpuri and other districts of Bundelkhand region, though with government support.


It is clear that if the income of the more impoverished and smaller farmers has to be sustained then the market must expand both territorially and functionally. Secondary agriculture deals mainly with the functionality of agriculture and contributes significantly to increasing the income and competitiveness of the farmers. With the focus on value addition,it did help villagers to increase their income. Appropriate advisory service, practical training, and linkage with the market were the crucial components of SRIJAN’s interventions. Change in the outlook of the villagers and realization of the fact that despite smaller landholdings, they can get better returns by changing their practices were the significant outputs of the intervention. The successful experiment of facilitating secondary agriculture through value addition among impoverished communities establishes that it helps increase productivity and price realization and changes farmers’ perspectives towards agriculture. Additionally, it contributes towards women’s empowerment and improves the village-level economy. Let’s promote secondary agriculture, and let agriculture extend beyond farmland and farming season.


Anupama, Butea (Buteamonosperma) Palash Tree Health Benefits and Medicinal Uses.2019,Bimbima,available at

Dalwai, A., Secondary agriculture is of primary importance, 10th August 2020,Financial Express, page 8, available on

Dey, K., Secondary agriculture: The shift Indian farming needs,20th December 2019, Financial Express, Available at

Niraj Kumar, Mohd. Zahid and Prasanna Khemaria

Niraj Kumar

Professor of Rural Management, XIM University,

Bhubaneswar, India.


Team Leader, SRIJAN

New Delhi, India.



New Delhi, India.

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