India's villages need proper power

India’s “joint forest management” programmes have been widely touted as giving communities greater control over forests and a higher share of forest revenues. State forestry departments sign agreements with local representatives in which the government promises to finance local plans, forest guards, tree nurseries and other activities and to let residents keep some of the earnings from selling forest products. The local representatives in turn agree to conserve their forests and to follow the programme’s rules. The World Bank and other agencies have spent hundreds of millions of dollars on these programmes. By Madhu Sarin

In many places the results have probably been positive. But Madhu Sarin’s “Disempowerment in the name of participatory forestry? - Village forests joint management in Uttarakhand”
points out the dangers of applying one single model in diverse contexts and of participatory schemes that do not take account what people are already doing.

The Uttarakhand region in Uttar Pradesh has over 6,000 community forests, one of which is located in Pakhi. In 1958 the elected forest council of Pakhi received the right to
manage a 240 hectare forest, which women use to collect fuelwood, fodder, leaf litter and other products for their families. For years the local women’s welfare association controlled
the forest and kept it in good condition. The association decided how to use the forest and paid a woman guard, through voluntary contributions, to fine anyone not observing the rules.

When the village leaders agreed (without consulting village women) to enter the Village Forests Joint Management programme in 1999, the women lost control of their forest. The local men, who had previously showed little interest in the forest, used project money to hire three male forest guards and fired the woman guard. Conflicts broke out over the funds for the village forest plan and the tree nurseries.

The Forestry Department now makes key decisions about how the forest will be used. It has marginalized the women’s welfare association and turned the men and women in the village into wage laborers. The villagers need money but they did not realize this would come at the cost of no longer being able to manage their forest.

The Village Forest Joint Management programme looks good on paper. Unfortunately the villagers of Pakhi do not live on paper.

Madhu Sarin
CIFOR
msarin@satyam.net.in

Extract from CIFOR’s POLEX newsletter, available at www.cifor.cgiar.org/polex/01June21.htm

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