According to a report published by Kumar Sambhav Shrivastava in Hindustan Times, the ministry of environment claims to have carried out plantation on 19.64 million hectors under various government schemes between 2003 and 2014. But the corresponding increase in forest cover was only 2.4 million hectares. This low percent of survival rate shows that a crucial link in this process was missed – the community. In my opinion, providing the livelihood options to the local communities will help them decrease their dependency on forest and increase conservation. This would help in increasing forest cover through regeneration and forests will be protected by the local communities.
I have been working with a cluster-level team of an NGO in Mandla, MP for one and a half years. I have been in continuous interaction with communities and would like to share a story from one of the villages.
Attarchuha is a small village in Mandla district, situated in Kanha-Pench corridor and is home to the entire population of Baiga tribe, who are identified as a vulnerable tribal group (PVTGs). These communities are fully dependent on forests for their livelihood.
To improve dialogue on protecting their resources, a people’s institution was formed with the consent of the gram sabha to understand individual needs as well as improve natural resource management and community needs.
It was observed, that communities are dependent on the forest for fuel wood, small timber, and construction material for housing and on wood for agricultural implements as well as honey, roots, fruits, leaves, flowers etc. Some of them were also selling charcoal in nearby cities to earn quick money.
It was obviously difficult for our team to tell them to leave all livelihood options and start conserving the forests, which is why, we decided to follow a perspective plan prepared by the village institution.
Smart stoves were promoted as a replacement to wood, not only because these would help reduce the use of wood for fuel, but also, help in reducing the emission of harmful gases.
Apart from that, emphasis was given on increasing agricultural productivity by conducting several training sessions on agricultural practices like System of Rice Intensification (SRI). Despite constraints like water scarcity for irrigation, hilly area and destruction by the wild animals, there was a good increase in production. Animal rearing was also introduced as an alternate livelihood and those who have a few acres of land were able to successfully adopt it.
To make sure that everyone in the community takes steps to conserve resources, by-laws were also prepared to cover issues like grazing, wood-cutting and any unwanted activity that would prove harmful. Suitable penalties for violators and awards for those who informed the committee of violations was also set.
An important rule that was passed, was one that prohibited the practice of using fire to clean up an area for an easy collection of Mahua. New plants started growing automatically; the forest started getting dense and diverse.
The success of this measure encouraged the community members to take more such steps. They decided to undertake plantation on the 3 acre of degraded land that had been captured by Lantana (an invasive shrub species which did not allow grass or plants to grow and leads to scarcity in fodder). It also provided shelter to wild animals who have been causing an increase in man-animal conflicts.
To solve this, a special list of plant species were ordered and many people contributed portions of their works as shramdan. Once the plantation process was completed, they worked on factors that would limit damage. Open grazing was prohibited. Instead, cattle rearers were encouraged to cut portions of the grass to feed their animals. The land which has been waste for the others, was now turned into a grassland where plants are flourishing.
As the protected forest became diverse and was able to provide food to wild animals, the residents decided that they won’t come into the villages anymore. The water level in the ponds had increased as well which the community utilized to start a fishery.
In my opinion, resources should be given to the communities to find alternative livelihood options. With just a little support and coordinated efforts, this community was able to protect nearly 14 hectares of forest. Along with that, they also brought most of the common property resources under the community governance.