LE Dialogue: Forests as Spaces of Opportunity
The dialogue, “Forests as Spaces of Opportunity,” had leaders from forest-dependent communities. They are primarily involved in creating economic opportunities from community-owned forest resources, along with establishing robust governance for sustainable use.
Key Highlights of the Dialogue:
Here is the list of success stories shared within communities during the session:
Himachal Pradesh: Forest-based livelihood is the pride of the pastoral community of the Himalayas. They know their forest boundaries well and look after the community’s forest as their own. They are usually the first informants if any incident occurs in the forests, like illegal tree-felling. They proudly consider themselves boundary protectors.
Women here are emotionally attached to the forests, and they are the decision-makers for post-CFR activities too. Women show great leadership and participation in collectivization and rate realization. The community realised that collective sales lead to greater revenue realisation but that it is impossible to fulfil astronomical market demand. This understanding of forests and markets led to their decision to sell SFPs within ecologically sustainable limits. The community expects that all such decisions on forest resources should be made with community participation. Tourism has had an adverse impact on women’s safety and accessibility to forests because of activities like drinking and rowdiness by unruly tourists. They strongly believe that these external entities should conduct themselves within the norms set by the local community.
Odisha: The forest-dependent tribal community worships the forests and the hills. They cannot stay away from the forests as their cultural and economic lives are entwined with the forests. There is a keen sense of ownership among the tribal community, and women have taken the lead and formed SHG groups for post-CFR activities. These SHG groups understand the forest rules and make decisions to conserve the forests. Shifting cultivation has completely stopped while illegal tree-felling has drastically decreased. After the implementation of FRA, the Forest Department does not prevent the collectors from engaging in forest-related activities. The community has developed a better understanding of the exploitative pricing of SFPs and expects the external stakeholders, like businesses, to provide a well-informed pricing. The pricing should be done also based on the understanding of parameters like ecological limits of the forest, efforts by communities involved in collection and processing, as well as forest management by communities to ensure sustainable supply.
Maharashtra: For women collectors, forests are no less than their mother’s home because whenever they visit the forest, they come back with something of value for themselves and their community. The ecosystem provides services in a sustainable manner so the community never returns empty-handed. It is, therefore, no surprise that the emotions associated with forests are those of feeling secure and nurtured. Before the FRA came into being, the community used to think of itself as a group of thieves and was often penalised by the Forest Department. FRA instilled a new sense of pride in being the owners and managers of their forests. The community is now actively engaged in the management of forests and makes regular decisions on plantation, fire prevention, and other aspects of forest management.
They have patrolling parties that bring in valuable information about forest quality, which in turn helps improve their management practices. Earlier tendu collectors were unaware of their rights and used to take labour charges as decided by the Forest Department, but now they have 90-Gram Sabhas organised in seven clusters that sell tendu leaves themselves and negotiate fair pricing with the contractor. The community has learned documentation and can also draw up an MoU. These transformations did not happen overnight. SHGs have been educating women since 1998. SHGs provided women with an opportunity to step out of the house, interact with fellow SHG members, and engage in productive pursuits. Women’ from all households were represented, and a Gram Sabha was declared invalid if women were not involved.
Chhattisgarh: Previously, the forest-dwelling community used to believe that the forest belonged to the Forest Department and that they were encroachers. After FRA was legislated, the community started having the confidence that forests belonged to them. The Gram Sabha now prepares management plans, which the Forest Department acknowledges too. Only schemes and plans that are beneficial to the villages are approved, be it the check dam location or the kind of plantation to be done in the CFR area. A forest resource mapping was done with community participation, and potential SFPs were listed for commercialization. Collectivization of SFPs started, and the produce was sold at a fair price.
- Pavna Thakur, Chhota Bhangal Maha Gram Sabha, Multhan, Himachal Pradesh
- Saraswati Manjhi, President, Zilla Parishad, Rayagada, Odisha
- D S Maliya, Dharamjaigarh Maha Gram Sabha, Maharashtra
- Kumaritai Jamkatan, Korchi Maha Gram Sabha, Maharashtra