Akhil Bharatiya Samaj Sewa Sansthan

7. Forests and Horticulture

Several forested parts of BU are capable of providing sustainable forest based livelihood to a large number of villagers on the basis of the collection of a wide range of minor forest produce including anvla, chiranunji, mahua, tendu leaf, seasonal fruits and vegetables and herbs, medicinal plants and honey. If families engaged in minor forest produce collection can also process some of the produce (for example make anvla powder or candy), their income can increase substantially. However the potential of sustainable livelihoods is badly impeded by several factors - such as the restrictions placed on the collection of minor forest produce and inability of collectors to get a fair price. What is worse is that overall prospects for this livelihood are declining with the depletion of forests.

Forestry practices need to be changed to allow free access to collection of minor forest produce, even in protected areas such as Ranipur (subject only to the restriction that sustainability of this livelihood is protected). While collectors and other villagers should be encouraged to take up value adding processing activity, their cooperation should also be obtained for the common cause of protecting forests without which the livelihood will also collapse. In return for unhindered access to sustainable collection of minor forest produce, villagers, their representatives and organisations should offer full cooperation in protecting forests.

The model being tried out in Baran district of Rajasthan may be mentioned in this context. Here about 50 plots of degraded forest lands have been handed over to villagers comprising mainly Sahariyas and other vulnerable groups traditionally associated with forest-based livelihoods. Here the villagers carry out soil and water conservation work, build a boundary plant, plant trees and herbs. All this is wage-based work but in addition they do a lot of voluntary work to protect trees. In return they've access to all the minor forest produce that can be obtained from this forest. A weakness of this model so far is the absence of long-term assured and inheritable rights to communities. By adding this, a model for regenerating and protecting forests while at the same time promoting forest-based livelihoods of the poorest people can be created.

The main basis of such an effort is (i) Local people, mainly tribals and forest dwellers are closely involved in the regeneration and protection of degraded forests (ii) indigenous tree varieties with good soil and water conservation properties and minor forest produce are emphasised (iii) people get long-term, secure, inheritable rights to collect minor-forest produce as long as they protect forests (iv) wage employment for various protective works is given particularly till such time that new trees have grown enough to yield adequate minor forest produce to provide a secure livelihood to people.

Such initiatives will also reduce the dependence on selling firewood and thereby contribute further to protecting forests.

Forestry initiatives which protect and regenerate forests while also protecting livelihood are important. The wider role of forests in conserving water and soil, protecting from floods and regulating climate is crucial and should never be neglected.

The potential of minor forest produce is evident from the fact that despite the forest degradation of recent years 500 tons anvla and almost the same quantity of mahuwa are collected in a year from a single block Manikpur. In addition there are higher value products like chiraunji. The earnings from anvla and mahua can also be increased substantially by local value-added processing such a making anvla powder and candy, or jam and jelly from mahua.

There is considerable potential for promoting sericulture. A project initiated in Manikpur block of Chitrakut district gave very good results initially but later became a victim of official apathy. There is a great potential for utilising the raw silk within this region as this region is rich in the human resource of weavers. The famous centre of Chanderi saris is located very near to this region in Madhya Pradesh. Raw silk can also find a good market in the famous silk weaving centre of Varanasi.

Many other artisan activists can be supported by forest produce. Some of the poorest dalit families are known to make brooms, sieves and other daily utility products from bamboos. Khajur trees also provide the raw material for similar products.

The potential of horticulture should be better tapped. The plateau areas are particularly suitable for anvala, lemon, guava and even oranges. Many other fruits grow well in plains. Lemon in particular has an important role to provide the leading health drink in an area so badly affected by hot weather and heat waves.

Neem tree is very plentiful in this area and with its potential being increasingly recognised for organic pesticides and medicine, neem based livelihood can increase greatly in the near future if tapped properly. Neem oilcake can play an important protective role in agriculture.

This region is known as a rich source of medicinal herbs. Nearly one hundred medicinal herbs have been identified for their potential, not to mention numerous lesser known species. Many people here have a rich knowledge of herbs. These can provide an important source of livelihood apart from playing a role in improving medicare at low cost. Herb gardens such as those created in Tikariys by the ABSSS should be promoted.

Similarly the task of protecting wild life should be taken up with the full cooperation of local villagers. People should not be displaced in the name of protecting wild life.

As stated earlier, land disputes of cultivators with the forest department should be settled on the basis of protecting the livelihood of people. Where it is possible for people to cultivate land, it should be allowed. Where the forest department has to plant trees, this should be done without evicting people on the basis of a partnership so that people become partners in the planting and protection of trees. (See Annexure 3). Hence the forest department's objective of bringing more land under tree cover can be reconciled with the protection of livelihood. Eviction, that has taken place in places like Nihi, Charaiya, Satrohan, Ranipur, Gidurha, Jaramafi (District Chitrakut), Tindwari and Kolawal (Banda District) should not be allowed.

Daily wages at present in forests are as low as Rs. 35 to 40 per day. The legal minimum wage should be paid.

The main aim should be to reconcile the objectives of protecting and increasing forest cover with the livelihood of tribals and other villagers from weaker sections living near forests. Innovative schemes which provide adequate and long-term rights to tribals while involving them in protection of forests and new planting of indigenous species of trees should be emphasised.

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