“The empowerment of the tribal people is the main objective of TRIFED. All our efforts, be it in getting better prices for their produce, helping them add value to the basic produce, or enable them to get access to larger markets, are targeted at achieving this.The Van Dhan Yojana in particular is playing a transformational role in turning around the rural tribal economy.” Shri Pravir Krishna, Managing Director TRIFED was speaking as the Chief Guest in the inaugural session of the International Conference on “Rural Transformation: From Natural to Cultural on May 5, 2021.”The International Conference on Rural Transformation: From Natural to Cultural has been organized by Center for Rural Development and Innovative Sustainable Technology (CRDIST), Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Kharagpur and is an online conference being held on May 5 andMay 6 2021. The themes being discussed in this two-day online conference include transforming rural livelihood generation; hard and soft infrastructure planning and implementation; convergence of traditional and modern technical knowledge for social well-being; sustainable natural resource (water, forest, land) planning and rural health and hygiene.During the inaugural address as Chief Guest, Shri Krishna largely spoke about the transformational role of Van Dhan Yojana in changing the rural forest dwelling tribal economy. He explained the rationale and the concept behind the Van Dhan Tribal Start-ups programme. The Van Dhan tribal start-ups programme or Van Dhan Yojana isa component of the the ‘Mechanism for Marketing of Minor Forest Produce (MFP) through Minimum Support Price (MSP) & Development of Value Chain for MFP’ Scheme. A flagship scheme of the Ministry of Tribal Affairs,drawing its strength from The Forest Rights Act of 2005, it aims to provide remunerative and fair prices to tribal gatherers of forest produces, almost three times higher than would be available to them from middle men, trebling their incomes. The Van Dhan tribal start-ups, also a component of the same scheme, is a programme for value addition, branding & marketing of Minor Forest Produces by establishing Van Dhan Kendras to facilitate creation of sustainable livelihoods for the forest-based tribes.It further complements MSP beautifully as it has emerged as a source of employment generation for tribal gatherers and forest dwellers and tribal artisans. Over the past 18 months, the Van Dhan Vikas Yojana has gained tremendous ground with its quick adoption and robust implementation aided by the state nodal and implementation agencies across India. 33,360 Van Dhan Vikas Kendras (VDVKs), subsumed into 2224 Van Dhan Vikas Kendra Clusters (VDVKCs) of 300 forest dwellers each, have been sanctioned by TRIFED as of March 31, 2021. A typical Van Dhan Vikas Kendra includes 20 tribal members. 15 such Van Dhan Vikas Kendras form 1 Van Dhan Vikas Kendra cluster. As per TRIFED, the Van Dhan Vikas Kendra Clusters will provide the Van Dhan Vikas Kendras economies of scale, livelihood and market-linkages, as well as entrepreneurship opportunities to nearly 6.67 lakh Tribal forest gatherers in 23 states and 2 UTs. As stated by TRIFED, all in all, as of now, 50 lakh tribals have been impacted by the Van Dhan start-ups programme up until now.Manipur, in particular has emerged as the Champion state where the Van Dhan programme has emerged as a major source of employment for the local tribals. Since the time that the programme was launched in the State in October 2019, 100 Van Dhan Vikas clusters have been established, out of which 77 are operational. These constitute 1500 Van Dhan Vikas Kendra Clusters, which are benefitting 30,000 tribal entrepreneurs, who are involved in collection, processing, packaging and marketing of value-added products from Minor Forest produce.A plus point is the scalability and replicability of the implementation model of the scheme, which has aided in its expansion across India.The North-East is leading the way with 80% of the established VDVKs. Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh are other states where the scheme has been adopted with overwhelming results.Moreover the beauty of the whole exercise is that it has managed to create market linkages. Many of these tribal enterprises are connected to markets. A wide array of products ranging from fruit candy (amla, pineapple, wild apple, ginger, fig, tamarind), jam (pineapple, amla, plum), juice & squash (pineapple, amla, wild apple, plum, Burmese grapes), spices (dalchini, turmeric, ginger), pickles (bamboo shoot, king chilly), processed giloy, all of which have been processed and packaged in Van Dhan Vikas Kendras have reached the market and are even being marketed on TribesIndia.com and through the Tribes India outlets.During his address, Shri Krishna also spoke in detail about the “Sankalp se Siddhi” – Village & Digital Connect Drive. Starting from April 1, 2021, this 100 day drive has 150 teams (10 in each region from TRIFED and State Implementation Agencies/Mentoring Agencies/Partners) that are visiting ten villages each. 100 villages in each region and 1500 villages in the country will be covered in the next 100 days. The main aim of this drive is to activate the Van Dhan Vikas Kendras in these villages. Aim is to achieve Rs 200 crore Sales during the next 12 months from VanDhan units. The visiting teams will also identify locations and shortlist potential VDVKs for clustering as TRIFOOD, SFURTI units as larger enterprises. He also spoke about the convergences TRIFED is driving with different ministries and organisations. It has MoUs in place with different ministries such as MSME, MoFPI and Ministry of Rural Development to align the scheme with similar programmes of these Ministries, resulting in the convergence of Van Dhan Vikas Kendras and its clusters with SFURTI, ESDP from MSME, Food Parks Scheme of MoFPI and NRLM, within M/oRural Development. Shri Krishna concluded his address by reiterating his deepest wish that through the successful implementation of these planned initiatives in the next year, TRIFED effects a complete transformation of the tribal ecosystem across the country!