An insight into the management of forest resources by tribal communities in Kargata and Bhagwanpur villages in Vidarbha, Maharashtra

The indigenous knowledge of in tribal communities in managing the forest resources cannot be overlooked. This paper in Economic and Political Weekly, sheds light on this aspect of forest management.

The Forest Conservation Act and Forest Rights Act have acquired significant attention ever since they were passed in 1980 and 2006. While the former restricts the alteration brought to the forestland, the latter extends the rights of forest dwellers to use its resources. Though both the acts were passed by both the houses of parliament, the Ministry of Environment and Forest and other conservationist believe that this will lead to destruction of forests and wildlife. The shift in the policy emphasises on devolution, decentralisation and community rights will be crucial for both community and forests. In this backdrop the paper tries to analyse: whether communities are capable of managing the resources; will the transfer of power to forest dwellers result in large scale deforestation; are traditional norms governing forest resources still effective in the communities. The paper presents results of four field experiments carried out in Vidarbha region of Maharashtra.

The primary objective of the paper is to understand the finer aspects of nature of the dependence of the forest dwellers, their priorities, shared norms and role of money.

The paper first gives a detailed description of the study area: land under forest area, the communities in the region, their occupation, their exposure to the outside world, economic status, the change that has occurred with respect to their connectivity to the mainstream society. An analysis on these shows that communities are undergoing continuous change due to the penetration of electronic media, improved transport, and communication.

The paper the goes on to spell out the details of the methods of data collection. It included focused group discussion, household surveys using a structured questionnaire, secondary data collected from International Forestry Resources and Institutions (IFRI) research programme protocols and key informant interviews. The study was carried out in Kargata (in 2009) and Bhagwanpur villages (2011) and in To understand and collect information on different aspects of forest management by communities games were designed by the authors. These aimed to capture:

  1. attitudinal aspects underpinning individual behaviour expressed through privately taken decisions regarding forest use, such as harvesting trees.
  2.  individual decisions regarding forest use arrived at after communication among participants.
  3.  nature of dependence on forests/forest products collected.
  4. priorities for plantations in a degraded forest
  5.  responses to increases in payoffs

Following this the authors elaborate on the observations made from experiments that were carried out in the field.

To bring together the threads of the research the authors conclude with the following:

  •  Harvesting behaviour of both the communities was non-exploitative and non-commercial.
  • Communication homogenised the harvesting behaviour of the individuals.
  • Their first priority is fuel wood, followed by fodder and they manage it in a sustainable manner.
  • If the resource size goes below a critical minimum, the communities are capable of dealing with scarcity by looking for alternatives.
  • For fuel wood the communities collect only fallen branches and old trees, no fresh felling is performed.
  • The indigenous communities can be trusted with forest management responsibilities, and steps like JFM and FRA are moving in the right direction.

Click below to download the paper.

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