Community-owned forestry to help tribals reclaim their forests and livelihoods

Photo Essay

By Ashutosh Bhat, Gokul Govind

Photographs by Ajaya Behera

The ‘Community-owned Forestry’ initiative aims to enable erstwhile forest-dependent communities to create, own and manage their own productive forests.

The ‘Community-owned Forestry’ initiative aims to enable erstwhile forest-dependent communities, who currently have limited access to forest resources, to create, own and manage their own productive forests.

Dangar, the slash and burn cultivation practice

Traditionally, a substantial portion of the food production of the Adivasis came from their practice of Dangar or Podu. This form of cultivation involved clearing a patch of forest, burning the undergrowth and planting a variety of cereals and pulses. These plants were then tended to and harvested over a period of time, based on the crop cycle.

Normally, a patch of forest burned once would not be returned to for at least fifteen years – sometimes even two or three decades. This meant that the slash-and-burn, instead of being a destructive practice would actually help in the growth of the forest.

However, with the shrinkage in forest access and increased pressure on available patches, coupled with an increase in population, Dangar has become a less sustainable practice. Rotation of Dangar plots now happens every two to three years, resulting in non-regeneration of the tree cover and very heavy erosion of the topsoil.

Dense forests, degraded hills and mountain streams

Thuamul Rampur block, on the southwestern portion of Kalahandi, is noted to be drought-prone, despite an average rainfall of over 2000mm.The landscape is mixed as it extends from dense forest to degraded hills. The area has many perennial mountain streams.

The northern and eastern parts of the Thuamul Rampur block are forested, while the southern part, bordering the district of Rayagada, is completely degraded due to indiscriminate exploitation of the forests. Large tracts of land have been declared Reserve Forest, denying the forest dwellers access to traditional livelihood avenues and cultivation practices, in turn causing excess stress on the tracts of land which remained available to them.

Photograph by Ajaya Behera

Regenerating land and livelihoods

Under the initiative, productive fruit, fodder and fuel-bearing species will be planted in about 800 acres of common and privately owned land over a period of six years.

In the first year (2019-2020), 60 acres of common and privately owned land, in Tentulipada and Nuapada hamlets of Dholpas village, Adri GP, Thuamul Rampur block of Kalahandi district will be covered. This is being taken up with the support of the InterGlobe Foundation.

A total of 18,000 forest species trees will be planted on 30 acres of community land, and 1200 fruit species on 30 acres of private land. The fruit species planned are Mango, Orange, Litchi, Guava, Jackfruit and Cashew. Pulses such as Black and Green Gram and Pigeon Pea will be grown through intercropping.

Ownership with the village community

The Village Committee will hold complete ownership and control over the plantations on the community land. Community-owned mechanisms for protection and management will be set up for each village. Species are chosen to ensure the balance between ecological and economic benefits to the communities. For private land, the owners will make higher own-contribution and protect the plant at their costs.

Conservation, livelihoods and water availability as benefits

The initiative is expected to increase the tree cover in the two hamlets from 10 to 70 acres resulting in the sequestration of approximately 19,200 tons of carbon dioxide over the expected life of the plantation (40 years).

Land treatment and plantations in the spring catchment will increase drinking water availability throughout the year including during the summer. The water availability from March to June at household premises for drinking and domestic use is expected to increase from 20% now to 80% after plantation. The time saved in collecting water in the lean months has the potential to increase the incomes of women by ₹ 2.73 lakh.

Soil and water conservation will increase productivity and production in agriculture. The potential is an expected increase of 66% in the yield of upland paddy, 33% in low land paddy, and 33% in millet. Enhanced cash incomes from intercropping and from horticulture produce will also improve income security.

Gram Vikas’ work in natural resources management

Gram Vikas’ work in natural resource development, and strengthening income-earning opportunities for rural families has focused most on remote tribal areas. In 1985, the social forestry programme was initiated to address challenges to livelihood security faced by the tribal communities, caused by massive deforestation. About 10,000 acres of private & community wasteland were brought under fruit, fuel & timber-yielding species in Ganjam, Gajapati & Kalahandi districts.

The tribals of Odisha practice shifting or slash-burn cultivation on hill slopes. Reduced access to common land due to stringent laws resulted in reduced rotation cycles in this practice and the degradation of land. Horticulture interventions and integrated land and water management measures were adopted to address this.

The focus has been on interrelated yet different aspects including watershed development, agriculture, horticulture, animal husbandry and minor forest produce.

Recurring droughts in southern and western Odisha prompted the focus on land and water management based on watershed principles. Water harvesting structures, soil conservation measures and drainage line treatment were taken up on a ridge-to-valley principle.

Photograph by Ajaya Behera


Thanks to the tribal communities who came together to regenerate their land and build better lives for themselves.


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