Joint Forest Management and community engagement experience of Rukhal village in South Gujarat – a climate adaptation strategy

This is a descript account of Rukhal village of Dediapada taluka in Narmada district where with the help of AKRSP NGO they carried out Joint Forest Management (JFM) with community engagement 23 years ago. This article describes the positive contribution of the JFM and intervening NGOs efforts for community betterment by rejuvenating the degraded forest land  jointly and does not cover the pros-cons of Joint forest management (Many articles pertaining to same are given in further readings.)

narmada district

Rukhal is a small tribal village of Narmada district having  total geographical area of about 300 hectares  with population of over 500 people and about 120 households. Narmada district has about 82% of its population as tribal. Western ghats extends from South of Gujarat to South India. South Gujarat typically receives good amount of rainfall – averaging to roughly about 1100 mm. However like most of the villages in South Gujarat which were once upon a time rich in trees and other biodiversity, with increasing population and increasing fuel wood needs  has led to degradation and destruction of the primary forests in the vicinity of villages and forests in the village commons. Such was also fate of Rukhal in 1995. Its forest had gone scarce due to over extraction of wood by their villagers as well as villagers from neighbouring villages. With scarcity of wood and also water, it was then that the villagers felt the need to protect the remaining forest by starting a forest protection committee. With help from AKRSP, the villagers approached Forest department to rejuvenate the forest under Joint Forest Management act,  for which the benefit of tree harvest would be shared between forest department and community.

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Community initiative and experience: 

A forest protection committee consisting of 11 people – 7 male and 4 female member was formed to do daily patrolling for day and night to protect the remaining forest. Defaulters who embark to cut the trees / bamboo on being caught pay fine as much as 500 Rs. This is also how the villagers managed to generate money for their running expenses. Along with this, restoration / reforestation of forest also took place through community participation with help from AKRSP and forest department. They reforested with local species like Acacia, bamboo, Mahua  etc. However villagers were not sure if there were plants of medicinal values in the forest.Thus protection of 115 ha ( i.e about 1/3rd of village land is forested) forest began to take shape. The villagers even afforested the revenue waste land. On harvesting trees from Forest land the benefits would be shared by the forest department and community in the ratio of 20: 80 respectively while the trees in the revenue waste land, community was the sole owner. Apart from the tree harvest rights, they have access to the grasses and all the Non-Timber Forest Produce (NTFP) like collection of tendu leaves, mahua flowers etc. the benefits would be equally shared in the community. The regular pruning of trees as decided would be done by the villagers and used for  fuel wood. Keeping growing population in mind they kept a few hectares of the common land as open and the rest was afforested.

What were the benefits accrued to the villagers? 

  1. Monetary benefits accurued post on tree maturity
  2. As the soil gets richer with humus and micro organisms, its water retention would also increase and thus a start of return to better environment and micro-climate. Villagers think that apart from the monetary benefits on harvest they have got ground water recharge which is extremely crucial in the low rainfall years like last year as it helps them take to irrigation for their crops when needed.
  3. Moreover because of the strong community participation and involvement even the forest department could not give contract ( most often illegally) to other company like CPM to harvest bamboo and other trees in Rukhal village while it was done for other village forests in the vicinity which were not managed by their respective villagers.
  4. Unlike the horticulture trees like mango which starts giving harvest in 5 years time these forest trees would give value only after the trees gain maturity around 25 years. Till that time the villagers have toiled in lot of effort to protect the forest from illegal wood cutters. Thus when the planned felling of Acacia would be decided, it would roughly sell about 25 lakh for about 500 acacia trees. Out of which  80% would go to community for their persistent efforts to be equally distributed to all the community members and the 20% would be take by forest department as per JFM agreement.
  5. With such magnificent efforts has led to arrival of wildlife, birds, butterflies etc.

Thus this initiative works not only as a greening initiative but a climate change adaptation strategy as well.

The community shared their concerns, challenges and shared monetary and water benefits of this joint forest management initiative. However it was not clear as to the choice of the trees which would be grown after the harvest of trees and its effect on ground water and the biodiversity (like eucalyptus as compared to other indigenous species). It will be interesting to find out how much did the village committee actually gain and whether the revenue share was obtained to the committee as agreed and what were the challenges in processing the harvesting and monetary gains in the due course of time. This will also decide  the faith on the government functionary, its acts and policies for such active village committees.

Were there challenges they faced to maintain the forest? 

Because of the only protected forested land in the vicinity, villagers from other villages would come to illegally cut the trees. It was extremely challenging to protect the forest and they had several cases running over years against the illegal miscreants till 2015 after which such cases have reduced.

Why are such initiatives more then necessary for climate change adaptation and lessons learnt? 

Protecting forests, and planting more trees is the easiest strategy to cater to climate change mitigation as well as aid in climate change adaptation. Trees are the cheapest carbon sinks and thus it makes more sense to conserving forests / reforesting degraded forests lands with local tree species and afforestation in the common lands.

Lessons: 

  • Strong community buy in and participation is necessary for success of such projects
  • Linking livelihoods and community participation to forest management is a good practice across the projects and for its success.
  • Transparency, community participation and public accountability was found to be the key to smooth implementation and harmonious social relations.
  • Managing the grant money alongwith percentage of contribution through public participation in cash and kind so that even after the grant period is over the project is still running
  • The inclusion, empowerment of women, the poor and vulnerable groups into the decision-making processes is crucial for the sustainability of the project.

Some Further readings / debates on JFM:

  1. Joint Forest Management in AKRSP (I)ín South Gujarat Programme Area: Issues, challenges and options by Manish Verma
  2. Does community-based forest management work in the tropics? — Shreya Dasgupta, the wire
  3. Institutional and policy issues of participatory forestry: Indian experience – K.S.Murali et al . 
  4. Government unveils draft national forest policy – Mayank Agrawal – The mint 
  5. Is JFM relevant? – DTE

This was a part of  study tour  arranged for the Ethiopian delegates to showcase Indian experience on watershed management and on micro-irrigation with IRAP NGO.

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