Livelihood Strategies and Covid-19: A Study of the Chenchus of Nallamala Forest, Andhra Pradesh

The Chenchus are a hunting and gathering society in the Nallamala forest of Andhra Pradesh and Telangana, India. However, due to the setting up of the Nagarjunasagar Srisailam Tiger Reserve in the Nallamala Forest, the Chenchus have had limited access to the entry and the use of the forest resources, which they have relied upon for sustenance. The forest was declared protected, and entry was strictly prohibited, especially in the core areas, while forest fringes were partially allowed for resource extraction. Due to this, there was a decreased dependency on the forest and its resources and the practice of their traditional livelihood was hampered. As a result, they looked for alternative economic opportunities for sustenance, viz., daily and agricultural wage labour, selling of Minor Forest Products and engaging in the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act 2005 or MGNREGA launched by the Government of India in 2006. During the height of the pandemic, the government announced a national lockdown to stop the spread of the virus among people. As a result, the alternate economic opportunities dwindled, and the Chenchus lost their source of income, faced untold difficulties and struggled to survive. They then returned to their traditional livelihood activities, hunted small game in the forest fringes, and gathered plant-based material. This and help rendered by various agencies enabled the Chenchus to survive the lockdown period.