Case for CFM

History has seen the management of Indian forests change from being an instrument of regimented exploitation by the British to its present conservation-centered approach. This transition in forest policy has been all but smooth.

India's Social Forestry Programme was launched in 1978 to ease pressure on her impoverished natural forests by promoting farm forestry and, secondly encouraging plantation in community woodlots. Although this helped in substantially curtailing extraction from natural stands, the benefits failed to percolate to the lower strata of the rural community. It was landowners who cashed in by obtaining seedlings at subsidized rates and selling their harvest wood-based industries for huge profits.

The 1988 Forest Policy led to the recognition of forest-dependent communities as partners in managing forests. Subsequently, the central government asked the states to encourage Joint Forest Management (JFM). Under this, forest-dependent communities were implored to assist Forest Departments in protecting forest areas, in lieu of which the former would get a proportion of the usufructs.

For many rural communities in Orissa, imposed jfm programmes meant a step backwards. These people were already managing their biotic resources successfully by way of community forest management (CFM) initiatives under their own organizations and were reluctant to share the fruits of their conservation efforts with the Forest Department.

This book takes the case of one such environmental group called Brukshya o' Jeevar Bandu Parishad (BOJBP), which made its mark in community-based forest management.

bojbp came into being in 1976 when the people of a little-known village called Kesharpur (Nayagarh district) took a prodigious initiative. The Binjhagiri hill that overlooked the village had been stripped clean during the 50s and 60s, creating a multitude of problems like fuel wood shortage, erosion and ravine-formation. Then Dr Narayan Hazari of Utkal University, Joginath sahoo, the local schoolteacher and Udaynath Khatei, a respected farmer got together and, with the help of local dfo, spurred the villagers to start an afforestation-cum-protection campaign for restoration of forest cover in the Binjhagiri region.

A few years later, there was a visible transformation of the hill. Regulated extraction of firewood and other minor forest produce (MFP) began, overseen by the protection committee . Support to the movement received a fillip when the people started getting tangible rewards.

The story of bojbp has a lesson. For the government the lesson is that JFM plans should respect communities that are already running thriving cfm schemes and should be adjusted accordingly. For environmental groups the lesson is that they should desist from blind antagonism and treat governmental programmes on merit.

Coming from Oxfam, one of bojbp's funders, the book gives a concise historical background to India's forests and the communities dependent on them, especially those in Orissa. It generously congratulates bojbp's cfm achievements while at the same time does not hesitate to rebuke its follies in a candid and impartial style.