Saturday, January 23, 2016

30 Forest Landscape Restoration in India- I.The concept of the ‘Landscape Approach’ in forest restoration

I. The concept of the ‘Landscape Approach’ in forest restoration


While the landscape approach to forest restoration has been seen as the latest innovation, many antecedents are perceptible in past efforts at forest conservation and development in India, as in many other parts of the world. The essence of a ‘landscape’ approach would probably lie in the conscious anticipation and management (where required) of potential feedback loops, especially displacement of pressures and leakages into adjoining areas and other such effects, which can be termed the internalisation of externalities.  Examples of past experiments in this direction would include the various ‘integrated’ or ‘comprehensive’ development or conservation projects, starting from the community development programme soon after Independence, the numerous social and community forestry projects of the 1970s and 80s, the massive movement for participatory or joint forest planning and management (JFPM) from the 1990s onwards, various ‘integrated’ tribal and area development schemes and projects, watershed development, eco-development, and so on. The paper will attempt a broad survey of such antecedents, summarize the achievements and critiques from the resource economics and social development points of view, and relate these antecedents to the various policy and legal measures undertaken by the Indian government in  recent decades, such as the Forest Conservation Act (1980), Recognition of Forest  Rights Act (2006), the Panchayati Raj amendments to the Constitution (1998), the revised National Forest Policy (1988), Court judgements, etc.

(A pdf file of the entire article is available at

The most recent manifestation of  the integrated approach is the Green India Mission (GIM) of the Government of India (2010), one of the eight Climate Change missions drawn up by the previous government and continued by the current party in power, the formulation of which was done under the supervision of the author in the Ministry of Environment & Forests. This is an ambitious programme that envisages the creation of 5 mha new growth and improvement of 5 mha of existing forest, on a landscape approach, over a period of 10 years, which will sequester carbon, along with a number of ‘co-benefits’ in the form of strengthened community participation, biodiversity conservation, income augmentation, etc. One of the issues to be addressed in the Mission is the institutional arrangements, which includes the clarification of the linkages of the community-based forest committees with the elected Panchayati Raj institutions. The subsequent part of the paper will proceed to lay out the salient features of the GIM, analyze the mechanisms that are supposed to incorporate the landscape approach as a bedrock of programme formulation, and then attempt to review the experience of the past few years in the translation of these ambitious ideas into practical institutions and actions on the ground. This will give the first taste of the possibly innovative ways in which regional and local agencies and communities interpret the idealized objectives of the landscape approach, and possibly offer a more realistic idea of the institutional arrangements that are likely to be effective in realizing these objectives.

The Ten Principles of landscape restoration

Among the many approaches to forest expansion and rehabilitation, especially in the context of mitigating the effects of global warming, the concept of forest and landscape restoration (FLR) seems to have caught the public imagination in recent years. Symptomatic of this is the grand conclave on FLR held just a few days after the climate conference (CoP 21) at Paris in December 2015. This paper seeks to explain how the concepts going into FLR are relevant to the Indian context, and how this new approach is related to antecedent practices and frameworks adopted in the country for rehabilitation of degraded forests and regeneration of new forests. The Indian experience is offered as a significant reference point for the world efforts in FLR, which will serve to establish the continuities as well as point out the important modifications that may be called for to improve the programme and increase the likelihood of achieving the numerous co-benefits in a sustainable manner.

We start by briefly laying out the essentials of what this new approach consists of, and in what ways  it is a departure from previous approaches. In recent articles on the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) website, Terry Sunderland, Principal Scientist with the CIFOR, clarifies that there is no simple or single definition: “The landscape approach is anything but orderly. It is more a case of muddling through and being flexible enough to adapt to change, and integrating multiple objectives for the best possible benefits” (Sunderland, August 2014). Other terms for it include “integrated landscape management” (ibid.). In an earlier CIFOR web article (Evans, October 2013), Dr.Sunderland describes the landscape approach as “essentially managing complex landscapes in an integrated fashion, in a holistic fashion, incorporating all the different land uses within those landscapes in a single management process”.  This is in contrast to current sector-based approaches, where each agency or stakeholder tends to function on its own, in an isolated manner, thereby letting many externalities go unaccounted for. The fond hope is that by getting all these stakeholders to plan and implement together, in a holistic and coordinated manner, there will be greater wins than losses.

In a formal paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), Vol.110, No.21, datelined 21 May 2013, Jeffrey Sayer and others (including Sunderland) found, after a comprehensive survey of the literature, that there was no universal definition for a landscape approach, but  suggest “ten principles for a landscape approach to reconciling agriculture, conservation, and other competing uses”, that “…emphasize adaptive management, stakeholder involvement, and multiple objectives. [...]  with institutional and governance concerns identified as the most severe obstacles to implementation”. Among other features, a landscape approach (sometimes equated to an “ecosystems” approach) would “imply shifting from project-oriented actions to process-oriented activities”, requiring “changes at all levels of interventions, from problem definition to monitoring and funding”, tying “stakeholders to long-term, iterative processes, giving them responsibilities and empowering them”, moving “away from top-down engineered solutions towards more bottom-up negotiated actions  that emerge from a process akin to muddling through” (Sayer et al., 2013).  

The above mentioned ten principles have also been adopted by the Global Partnership on Forest and Landscape Restoration (GPFLR, 2013). For the record, they are: 1. Adaptive management, 2. Common concern entry point, 3. Multiple scales, 4. Multi-functionality, 5. Multi-stakeholder, 6. Negotiated and transparent change logic, 7. Clarification of rights and responsibilities, 8. Participatory and user-friendly monitoring, 9. Resilience, and 10. Strengthened stakeholder capability  (

Earlier examples of such checklists and flow-charts are available in the successive ITTO guides on FLR (ITTO, 2002, 2005, 2009),

The principles of community institution building

Another example of a checklist of desirable elements in community approaches is afforded by the work of Elinor Ostrom (1990). Based on case studies of a wide range of actual common property or community natural resources management systems, Ostrom and her group find that beyond the two extremes of privatisation or state control that are suggested as a solution to the “tragedy of freedom in a commons” (Hardin, 1968), there is a third alternative, that of developing institutions for self-government.   Some fundamental characteristics of “successful common-pool management schemes” involve “coping with free-riding, solving commitment problems, arranging for the supply of new institutions and monitoring individual compliance with a set of rules” (Ostrom, 1990, p.27). One of the desired characteristics is that the institution building start with a suitably small scale, where people can learn about one another and build up trust by face-to-face interactions, and then gradually build it up to higher levels and larger groups.

If we want a list, the requirements to institute a set of rules that are acceptable and sustainable to manage a CPR, are as follows according to Ostrom (op. cit.):
1)      define a set of appropriators who are authorized to use the CPR,
2)      relate the rules to the attributes of the CPR and the community,
3)      the rules to be defined at least in part, by local appropriators,
4)      the rules to be monitored by individuals accountable to local appropriators,
5)      the rules are “sanctioned using graduated punishments” (in common parlance, I interpret this to mean that serious punishments are not imposed at the first offence, but through a gradually rising series according to their seriousness and frequency).

Ostrom then presents the following set of variables as capable of explaining the supply of institutions in the sort of situations her case studies cover:
1)      the total number of decision makers,
2)      the number of participants needed to achieve the collective action,
3)      the discount rate in use,
4)      the similarities of interest,
5)      the presence of people with substantial leadership assets.

However, the studies also threw up situations where some of these factors seemed to be acting in diverse ways: for instance, although smaller groups may be generally more effective, the numbers involved in certain successful groundwater basins and irrigation areas were quite large (700 to 13,500), and at the other extreme was a 200-strong community of fisherfolk who were unsuccessful. Size of the group cannot obviously be the only determinant of the capability of organising themselves, and other explanations are required. The following additional conditions are then suggested (Ostrom, op. cit., p.100-101), which are a continuation to the five listed above:
6) that they have access to rapid low cost “arenas” to resolve conflicts,
7) the rights to devise their own institutions are not challenged by external government agencies,
8) these activities are organised in multiple layers of “nested enterprises”.

It also helps if they can “call on public facilities – courts, a state department of natural resources, legislatures, special elections” and so on, to obtain information and make decisions that were “legitimate and enforceable”.  Ostrom feels that institution-building and management learning has to proceed through an “incremental, self-transforming process”, to be successful.

This seems to be quite applicable even to the situation in India, where the author of this paper also found that communities exhibited a keen appreciation of the strength of a collaborative relationship with the forest department, and there was no sense of animosity between these community-based organisations (CBOs) and the larger elected institutions of the formal panchayati raj system (Dilip Kumar, 2013, 2014).

Sustainable Management and the landscape approach

These are therefore not entirely new concepts, and in fact the landscape approach may be seen as just a more incisive and focused statement of the concerns and ideas behind the concept of sustainable management. For example, scanning through the contributions in the magnificent volume put together for the Year of Forests 2011 (UNFF, 2012), we see the recurring theme of the multi-faceted benefits of forests, much beyond the pre-occupation with sustained yield management for the main product, timber, of the 19th and early 20th century foresters. Now there is an acute consciousness that forests sustain the livelihoods of sizeable sections of the population, especially rural poor, by providing myriad non-timber products (including medicinal herbs that support traditional health care systems which are all that the poor can access), water for irrigation, drinking, and livestock, fodder, grazing, fuelwood, climate amelioration, biodiversity,   and cultural inputs. The old approach to both livelihoods support and biodiversity and climate maintenance is not achievable by cordoning off the forests from the population with guns and guards alone, but calls for a more positive recognition of the stakes of multiple actors on the ground, providing a central role to communities, developing innovative   management regimes for the natural resource, and so on. Thus the entire gamut of ideas and interventions coming under the label of sustainable management or ecosystem management is very similar to those informing the landscape approach. Another common term used is holistic management, much used by proponents of development alternates, or the integrated or comprehensive approach, which has been applied to numerous programmes and projects in recent decades.

Grazing in Haryana jungle
Having said this, it appears that a certain distinction can be made in respect of the landscape approach narrowly interpreted. This is that effects of interventions in one area, sector or community would obviously have repercussions on other areas or sectors or communities. In the normal course, each implementing agency, whether a government department or an NGO, would not go beyond its narrow range of concerns, so that these spill-over effects, or externalities, would go unaccounted for. As examples, we can expect that closing off of one patch of land in order to restore the vegetation or to raise a fuelwood or fodder plantation, would probably displace users to some other patch. Often, effects of forest closure for the sake of regeneration or restoration, fall heavily on the poorest – women and children who have the responsibility of collecting fuelwood and fodder, or landless people who collect forest produce for barter or sale, for instance – which makes such single-dimensioned projects iniquitous. This indeed is the main criticism of the previous initiatives, often supported by foreign aid, like social forestry and participatory forestry in India, which have otherwise been quite successful in achieving physical and financial targets. It would be interesting to see how these criticisms are proposed to be dealt with in the latest incarnation, the Green India Mission (Government of India, 2010), which is one of the (eight) Climate Change Missions drawn up by the previous government (under Prime Minister Manmohan Singh).

One of the problems for ground-level practitioners and administrators in understanding and endorsing wholeheartedly these seemingly innovative approaches is, that it is not clear whether these are tested and proven ways, or just some more examples of aspirational designs drawn up by well-meaning external agents. As we are well aware, a whole succession of approaches (as outlined above) have been coined, but many of them have fallen by the wayside as donor or sponsor interest has waned due to the in-built cycle of project financing, or donor fatigue in some cases, or adverse notice from analysts, especially social environmentalists. 

We now turn to a more detailed exposition of these various experiments and experiences in forest restoration approaches in the Indian context, where the above ideas have a long history of application in one form or another, over a number of policy changes and programme initiatives since the inception of organized ‘scientific’ forestry in the 19th century. 

(A pdf file of the entire article is available at


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