Management (JFM) as precursor to the landscape approach
Contemporaneously with the expansion of Indian forestry into the non-forest areas, individual forest officers had been experimenting with versions of the joint forest management approach in different parts of the country (Saxena, 1997, p.45). The earliest such initiatives seem to have been those made in Arabari forest of West Bengal in the 1970s, and another early experiment was the formation of Hill Resource Management Committees to undertake soil and water conservation in the eroded hills around Sukhomajri in Haryana state. Participatory approaches were also initiated in Gujerat, Orissa, and other states. These encouraging results, and the favourable environment provided by the 1988 forest policy, prompted the Ministry of Environment & Forests (and Climate Change from 2014, hence MoEFCC) to issue the famous letter of 1 June 1990, exhorting all the states to take up JFM as a general programme. All externally-aided forestry projects from the 1990s (such as the DFID-funded Western Ghats Foresry Project, discussed below) have adopted JFM as their underlying principle and principal framework, as also the National Afforestation Programme (NAP), the ‘flagship’ scheme of the MoEF (see below). As a result, there are now over 120,000 JFM committees taking care of over 20 million hectares of forest (an estimate up to March 2010 is 112,816 committees covering 24.65 mha, see ICFRE, 2012, p.24).
(A pdf file of the entire article is available at https://www.academia.edu/21490696/Forest_Landscape_Restoration_in_India_Antecedents_experience_and_prognoses)
Since JFM in India has been one of the most prolific generators of papers and theses, it will not be necessary to recount its history in detail here, apart from a very brief account of its features (see Saxena, 1997, for an early account, and the author’s monograph, Dilip Kumar, 2014, for a more detailed analysis from the point of view of common property management and decentralization). The forest department places at the disposal of the village or hamlet community, a tract of (degraded) forest, and works with the community over a period of a year or two to enroll members on the proposed Village Forest Committee (VFC). Every adult citizen is entitled to be an independent member; usually both male and female household heads are given individual membership. The committee usually has an elected Chairman or President from among the villagers, and a Secretary (usually the Forester) from the forest department (FD) to keep the records, write the cash accounts, and liaise with the government. The villagers get together to draw up a ‘micro-plan’ for a 10- or 20-year horizon, usually using a PRA-type exercise with the help of a local NGO that is compensated by the scheme or project which is funding the programme. The micro-plan includes an assessment of the forest-related problems and needs, the state of the resource, ways to improve the supply-demand position of forest products and ensure long-term sustainability of the environmental services (especially water conservation), capacity building (training, workshops, visits to demonstration plots) and processing and marketing facilities, financial and physical resources required, management systems and protection regimes, etc. A significant part of the JFM regime is the authorization to share the incremental benefits with the community: in practice, this means that all the firewood and lops and tops, prunings, brushwood, etc. is taken by the villagers, as also all non-timber products (which have in any case been assigned to the Panchayats by law) and a portion of net revenues from final timber harvests (usually 50% to 75%). Wage labour payments are an added benefit where there is dearth of work. An important part of the exercise is the identification of so-called ‘entry-point activities’: perhaps repair of a foot-bridge or bridle path, restoration of a drinking water source, desilting of a pond, repairing a schoolroom, etc. The philosophy is that when the community sits down with the FD and the NGO, there will usually emerge some pressing non-forestry problems of their own, so that it would be difficult to talk of forestry matters (which are usually way down in their priorities) unless some solutions can be found for the immediate pressing problems. The provision of a discretionary fund for these is a good way to smoothen the way to setting up an effective village forest committee (the process is sometimes termed the ‘forest journey’), as it builds interest in the activity and confidence in the sincerity and competence of the sponsoring agency. Otherwise it will be taken as empty talk, especially as the benefits arising from forest protection tend to be fairly distant in time, entail some sacrifice in the current periods, and are often nebulous until some concrete instances are shown.
It can be appreciated that, in comparison with the Social Forestry/Farm Forestry (SF/FF) approach, the JFM/VFC framework is a closer approximation to the landscape approach we are discussing here. The JFM/VFC approach requires the community to be involved from an early stage in the programme (right from situation analysis, identification of issues, drawing up of plans) through implementation and garnering benefits. Further, all sectors are considered in the village micro-planning exercise, if at least peripherally. Especially when discussing entry-point activities, capacity building, livelihoods support, etc., it is expected that decisions will be taken either to integrate other schemes and projects, or at least to approach other departments and sources of funding or other support. Especially where an NGO is involved, there is a likelihood that other activities will be brought in, such as a medical camp or animal health camp, renewable energy (solar, improved stoves, biogas), etc. One of the common programmes is to initiate, and advance seed money to, a number of micro-savings and loan groups or Self-Help groups (SHGs), that may become quite active in other fields like processing and marketing of local produce. Forest restoration may in fact be only one of the benefits, and as agriculture improves (through water harvesting, better techniques, crops, infrastructure for processing etc.), the dependence on the forest may well go down. Another spin-off of improved agriculture is the reduction in periodic out-migration for wage employment, gradual down-sizing of ‘scrub’ cattle herds and switching to stall-fed, improved milch animals, and increased attendance of children in schools (who would otherwise have been assigned low-priority chores like grazing the scrub cattle and collecting dung).
National Afforestation Programme (NAP) and JFM
As the approach to forest development progressively veered to the participatory, bottom-up mode, the central schemes of the forest ministry also changed their character. The National Afforestation Programme (NAP) was formulated by merger of four IXth Plan centrally sponsored afforestation schemes of the MoEF, namely, Integrated Afforestation and Eco-Development Projects Scheme (IAEPS), Area Oriented Fuel wood and Fodder Projects Scheme (AOFFPS), Conservation and Development of Non-Timber Forest Produce including Medicinal Plants Scheme (NTFP), and Association of Scheduled Tribes and Rural Poor in Regeneration of Degraded Forests (ASTRP), with a view to reducing multiplicity of schemes with similar objectives, ensuring uniformity in funding pattern and implementation mechanism, avoiding delays in availability of funds to the field level and institutionalising peoples participation in project formulation and its implementation. The NAP scheme is operated as a 100% Central Sector/ Centrally Sponsored Scheme by the National Afforestation and Eco-Development Board at the Ministry (NAEB), set up in 1992. By 2011, 743 forest development associations (FDAs), a federation of JFM committees at the forest division level, had been operationalised, to treat some 1.23 mha as on 19.11.2007 (Ministry website, http://www.archive.india.gov.in/sectors/environment/index.php?id=9)
A comprehensive ‘Mid-Term Evaluation’ (MTE) of the NAP by the ICFRE Dehradun submitted in 2008 (available at http://naeb.nic.in/MTE-Complete_Report.pdf) found that the physical achievements were satisfactory, and that the entry-point activities, such as water conservation measures, wells, common utility buildings like school, anganwadi, primary health centre, eco-tourism, NTFP management, etc. have been well received, in the forest-fringe Village Forest Committees (including Eco-Development Committees, EDCs, in wildlife areas). “The programme, by and large, has been successful in mobilizing people in 28181 villages in forests protection and development activities covering over ten million hectare forests. It has worked well towards deepening of democratic ethos and their institutionalization through FDA-JFMC mechanism” (MTE, p.ii). Thus the FDAs have played a “catalytic role in development of rural production systems through improved irrigation, soil and moisture conservation, value addition in non-timber foresdt produce collection and processing, and enhanced biomass production”, resulting in successful protection of about 10 mha forests from illicit grazing, fire, etc. that are now “regenerating with vigour”. On the down side, the report comments that the micro-planning has been mainly restricted to forest schemes (and not truly multi-sectoral), training is seen to be somewhat ad-hoc, and there are other weaknesses in the process. JFM committees, like any “nascent” institution, have been helped by capacity building exercises to understand the scheme, but “functioning of forest committees remain still beyond the grasp of a majority of forest committee members and forest department in majority of cases”, and there does not seem to be any clear idea of what will happen after the funding ceases (lack of an “exit strategy”). As estimated by Dr.Devendra Pandey for the India- Forest Sector Report 2010 (ICFRE, 2012), a cumulative total amount of Rs.23370 million was released over 8 years of the NAP until 2009-10, achieving about 1.69 mha afforestation; out of this some 40 to 45% is under Assisted Natural Regeneration (ANR), and 35-40% under artificial regeneration and mixed plantation (other models include silvi-pasture development, bamboo and cane plantation, regeneration of herbs and shrubs, etc.). The revised 2009 guidelines (available at http://naeb.nic.in/NAP_revised%20Guidelines%20English.pdf) seek to address some of these issues.
Criticism of the JFM approach
As with SF, the JFM programme has also attracted its share of the ire and disapproval of social environmentalists (for instance, Lele’s chapter is titled frankly “What is Wrong with Joint Forest Management?” in Lele & Menon, 2014; see also Lele, 2003). This is puzzling and disheartening to the forest department, which feels that the JFM/NAP has been a useful, and fairly successful, programme, and the improvement in forest cover after 1997 has been generally ascribed to the improved protection and fire prevention achieved by the VFCs. The disapproval seems generally to be based on the fact that the forest department still holds the reins, by monopolizing the Secretary post and controlling the bank accounts of the VFC, for example. Some observers also find that women’s interests are down-graded, as men prefer to go for cash returns from the timber harvest, and often put controls on collection of fuel and fodder, which is predominantly the women’s responsibility. Equity concerns are also pointed out, as landless families need income from collection, grazing, etc., which may be prohibited in the regenerating plots. These gender and equity effects are criticized as a flaw in the JFM set-up, which tends to favour landed, dominant sections of the village community.
However, foresters tend to discount such criticisms, on the ground that the VFC process also has a lot of support for livelihoods built in, such as capacity building and training for subsidiary occupations (both forest-based and otherwise), infrastructure building for processing and marketing (drying and threshing floors, work and storage sheds , transport, credit, minimum support price for certain products, etc.), especially where a project has more flexibility in the types of activities that can be funded. In the final analysis, the benefits of almost any rural programme tend to go disproportionately to the dominant elements (a feature already noted in the agriculture sector and the Community Development pragramme, by Myrdal, 1968, Vol.II; see pp.1344-45, 1367, for instance), but where support is given to activities not favoured by the better off (such as collection of low-valued forest products), the landless wage-earners are likely to be benefited.
Choice of Institutions: between community-based, state and panchayat
Social environmentalists, finally, demand the shift of VFCs from the control of the forest departments to the jurisdiction of the elected panchayats (or village general body, Gram Sabha). As explained by the author in his survey of VFCs and JFM in three states (Dilip Kumar, 2014), this antagonism to what are termed Community-Based Organisations (CBOs) outside the official panchayat raj institutions (PRI)system, is probably a creation of the social activists. The villagers themselves do not see any antagonism between CBOs and PRIs, as each has its role and status, and the CBO (VFC) is actually preferred by all the communities contacted in the above study. This is because the CBOs (such as the VFCs) are closer to the settlement or hamlet level of the community, where all the members are equal, and know each other and can take up joint activities, as posited by Ostrom (1990) and others. The village panchayats (the lowest rung of the PRIs) are much larger, are farther away from the village or hamlet, and are less responsive to the felt needs as they are meant to take up large infrastructure programmes of the state. In any case, the villagers like the sense of control they have in the CBO, and would like these to be independent of the PRIs so as to keep away the political divisions of the electoral process. Further it was commonly expressed that the two are not mutually incompatible, and can easily be reconciled by making the CBO based on the whole village general body (Gram Sabha), and designating it as a sub-committee of the PRI (se Dilip Kumar, 2014).
 (Operational Guidelines for the Tenth Five Year Plan, available at http://www.indiaenvironmentportal.org.in/files/NAEBwebst.pdf, and revised 2009 guidelines at http://naeb.nic.in/NAP_revised%20Guidelines%20English.pdf).
(A pdf file of the entire article is available at https://www.academia.edu/21490696/Forest_Landscape_Restoration_in_India_Antecedents_experience_and_prognoses)
Dilip Kumar, P.J. 2014. Managing India’s Forests: Village Communities, Panchayati Raj Institutions and the State. Monograph No.32. Institute for Social and Economic Change, Bangalore. Available at http://www.academia.edu/9235210/Managing_India_s_Forests_Village_Communities_Panchayati_Raj_Institutions_and_the_State
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Lele, Sharachchandra. 2003. Participatory Forest management in Karnataka: At the Crossroads. Community Forestry, Vol.2, Issue 4, May 2003, p.4-11. Available at: http://www.ces.iisc.ernet.in/biodiversity/sahyadri_enews/newsletter/issue21/pdfs/PFM%20in%20Karnataka.pdf
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