9

Forest under Ranpur Forest Protection Committee

 

Introduction

The last study considers three areas of forest under the protection of Village Forest Protection Committees, all of which are a part of the larger, umbrella organisation, Ranpur FPC. Ranpur is located in the eastern District of Nayagarh, Orissa. District-wise, forest cover in Nayagarh, according to satellite data from the Ministry of Environment and Forest for 1997 show that 39% of the total area is under forest. Of the total 1640 km2, 1031 km2 is classified as dense, with a canopy greater than 40%, while the remaining 609 km2 has a canopy of less than 10%, and is classified as open.

The Ranpur block of Nayagarh encompasses 260 villages. The socio-economic composition of the 243,000 population is approximately 2-4% large landholders (more than 5 acres), 35% small holders (less than 5 acres), and approximately 30% each for marginal farmers (less than 1 acre) and landless. In the 1991 census, 114,000 were considered as 'economically, socially or educationally backwards' and about 20,000 were designated as scheduled caste and scheduled tribe. Agricultural output is largely restricted to a single annual crop of rain-fed paddy, though some pulses are also grown.

Of Ranpur's 260 villages, 192 according to Ranpur FPC are engaged in an organised form of forest protection. Although informal protection of forest has been practised for over twenty years, deforestation and degradation of forest land continued, generated both from within and outside the Ranpur population. Adverse effects due to forest loss are similar to those reported at Budhikhamari; firewood scarcity, shortage of construction materials, particularly bamboo and reduction in non-timber forest products (NTFP's). Agriculture was also impacted, with an increase in soil washed onto cultivated fields, from surrounding denuded hilly areas, destroying crops, while in other areas, an increase in organic material was necessary to maintain fertility.

After a failed attempt by the Forest Department to implement the JFM measures in 1992/3, the locals, untrusting of the FD and their motives, given past experiences, and unhappy about the 50/50 share of JFM, decided instead to form their own management and protection structure. Under the umbrella of 'Ranpur FPC', organisations at village-level have been created. Similar to the village Panchayat, or village council structure, each VFPC hold regular meetings, while communication with other VFPC's is organised through monthly meeting of the secretaries. Twice yearly larger meetings of the protection committees take place.

Protection arrangements vary between villages, and according to Ranpur VFPC, some work on a household rota system, (Thengapalli), while the more affluent villages may pay for protection by contributions from each household. Others have groups of men and women volunteers that alternate watches. Timber thieves are usually fined, the proceeds of which are used by the VFPC, and often instant village meetings are called, where the thief must apologise.

Management appears to be more the regulation of access, than technical or scientific management, similar to Budhikhamari. Work, such as thinning or pruning is undertaken when considered necessary, and management plans are not used.

Three different forests under VFPC's are sampled to determine the effects of community protection. Three different forests sampled for this study were:

  1. Chaatipur Village Teak Forest
  2. Bajrakot Teak Forest
  3. Khairpally Mahua Forest

Chaatipur Village teak forest

Chaatipur Village is a small settlement of thirteen families in 35 households. The forest nearest to Chaatipur was once over 700 ha. However, considerable extraction by government and private contractors, and timber smuggling has reduced the forest to a fraction of its size.

Community protection of an area of teak (Tectona grandis) forest, approximately 10 ha has been active for over twenty years, perhaps due to the energy of a couple of Chaatipur residents, notably Arjun Rout, and his family. Nearer to the village, where once there was indigenous forest, a 35 ha social forestry plantation of Eucalyptus and Acacia has been established by the Forest Department, which is shared with several other villages.

Community protection reportedly came about when an attempt to fell the remaining teak forest by the Forest Department ignited fierce local opposition. Relations between Chaatipur Village and the FD have been hostile since, and recent attempts to incorporate Chaatipur VFPC into JFM have been roundly rejected. Chaatipur, like other groups, do not think the 50/50 share with the FD is fair. Since organising into a VFPC, it is well understood in the local area that Chaatipur teak forest is closed to outside users, though protection is still vigorous. However, in attempting to regulate access to the forest, the VFPC has been threatened by more powerful people with vested interests who are linked to local politics. The villagers are afraid that ultimately, the forest they protect and perceive as rightfully theirs will be clear felled by the FD, particularly as legally, the designation is Reserved forest. The natural teak forest is located on a steep slope, approximately 100 ft from the bottom, where the social forestry plot and Chaatipur Village are sited. Under the canopy, which estimated by eye is greater than 40%, a dense shrub and herb layer is evident, upto 1.5 m in height (see plate 9.1).

Bajrakot teak forest

Bajrakot Village Forest Protection Committee is a relatively recent organisation, and was formed 2-3 years ago. As part of Ranpur FPC, Bajrakot protects 13.5 ha of reportedly natural teak forest. In attempting to exert user rights and define access, Bajrakot, similar to Chaatipur VFPC, has been threatened by more powerful people with vested interests in the forest. Local NGO's report harassment of villagers by people aligned with the local ruling party, who also have links to the local police. Illicit felling of timber from Bajrakot forest occurred October 1998, and the VFPC, held responsible by local politicians, suspect a conspiracy to weaken their resolve.

The volatile situation at Bajrakot has necessitated a constant watch over the forest. Protection is currently undertaken twenty-four hours a day, with a.m. and p.m. rotas distributed between several families daily. The villagers have also built a shelter on the periphery of the forest and near to the road, to make their night-time shifts more comfortable. The frontispiece of this dissertation shows two members of Bajrakot VFPC, who were just taking over for the evening watch.

Bajrakot teak forest has a Reserved designation. The trees in and around the site were evenly planted, and suggested an old plantation on the periphery of the forest. The site can be seen in plate 9.2. The canopy was greater than 40%, and the shrub layer of 5 ft was not dense, allowing easy passage around the site. The area is a local beauty spot, with a water pool amongst large boulders, and a small stream. Families come to Bajrakot teak forest and picnic, the by-products of which, particularly chicken feathers, were apparent everywhere.

 

Khairpally mahua forest

The final area of forest under community protection to be considered here is Khairpally mahua forest. Khairpally VFPC is a recently formed organisation, and in the two years since its inception, forest protection has fluctuated, due to conflict not with outside agencies, but from conflict within the village. Disagreements regarding access to forest usufruct has split the village along caste lines; the more privileged classes of Brahmins, Karan and Kandayats are attempting to exert control of forest resources, at the exclusion of the lower caste people of the village, who are Bhandari (barbers), Hardi (cremators), and Dobi (launders). Attempts to exclude lower caste groups rests on the tenuous premise that these people, residing not within the village, but on its periphery, are too far away (2.5 km) from the Madhuca indica forest, for effective protection. As such, the sixteen member Village Forest Protection Committee does not have representation from any groups other than the high castes, and therefore does not reflect the diverse interests of the village. Nor are the lower castes more marginal in numbers; of the 600 people residing in Khairpally village, about 300, in seventy households are low caste, or adivasi. Attempts to resolve the conflict are currently being mediated by local NGO's, though little progress appears to have been made. In this context, forest protection has not been made possible as a regular feature.

Madhuca indica is a greatly valued tree, and is noted for its flowers, which can be eaten, yield oil, but perhaps most notably, are traditionally fermented to make liquor, particularly by adivasi and low caste households. The sampled site was flat, found to have a dense canopy, with sparse, low ground cover (see plate 9.3). The soil below was visible, and appeared to be light brown, perhaps indicating an organic component, therefore any laterites present in the substrate was not exposed.

 

Methodology

  1. Three sites, considered representative of each forest, were marked off into 10 x 10 m plots.
  2. A brief description of each site was made, noting general appearance, canopy density, height of understorey, groundcover, etc.and other notable features of interest such as evidence of grazing, etc…
  3. All vegetation was recorded. Girth at breast height of all trees was noted, as was identification to species level. In this study, ground-flora was also recorded, however, due to time constraints, half of each site, e.g. 5x10 m was considered, and the data later doubled.

Analysis

  1. Frequency diagrams were made for each site, using data for the canopy trees.
  2. Age classes of Tectona grandis found at two sites were calculated from girth, using the same method described in the Budhikhamari study, from a forester's handbook, and shown in a frequency chart. Age was inferred from girth size for Madhuca indica.
  3. A bar chart showing the proportions of tree species forming shrub and herb layer of each site was made, for comparison.
  4. Shannon diversity index (H=S PilnPi) and equitability index (J=H/lnS) were calculated, for both trees occurring in the canopy, and those occurring as saplings in the shrub/herb layer.

Table 9.1: Diversity indices for three forests, Ranpur, Orissa
  Chaatipur Bajrakot Khairpally
Canopy tree species

Shannon diversity

Shannon equitability

1

0

0

2

0.23

0.34

2

0.56

0.81

Shrub/herb layer spp

Shannon diversity

Shannon equitability

13

1.95

0.76

12

1.82

0.73

10

1.34

0.58

 

Results

At Chaatipur teak forest, the site was found to have four Tectona grandis only forming the canopy (fig 9.1). Two were calculated as being between 40-44 years, the other two, between 45-49 years (fig.9.2a). A similar situation was found at Bajrakot teak forest, though the teak were younger, and more numerous. One species was found in the canopy layer, a Lannea coromandalica, while the remaining fifteen trees were all Tectona grandis. Calculations from girth show the teak to be under twenty years of age (fig.9.2b). The third site, Khairpally mahua forest, was found to have two species only in the canopy layer, Madhuca indica, and Buchanania lanzen, of which with fifteen (75%) were M.indica, while the remaining five (25%), were B.lanzen (fig.9.1).

Diversity and equitability for the canopy trees in all sites are shown in table 9.1. Chaatipur, with its single species scores a zero for diversity, while Khairpally is relatively high, at 0.56. Similarly, the equitability index for Chaatipur is zero, while Khairpally is the highest, with 0.81, and Bajrakot is in between, at 0.34. Diversity and equitability was also calculated for tree species occurring in the shrub and herb layer, and indices were found to be higher. There was also less overall difference between the three; with diversity values of 1.95, 1.82 and 1.34, for Chaatipur, Bajrakot and Khairpally respectively, and equitability to be 0.76, 0.73 and 0.58.

Although age could not be calculated (Madhuca indica does not feature in forester's handbooks as a species of commercial interest), figure 9.2c shows the distribution of girth sizes of mahua at Khairpally. 80% of the trees appear to be relatively young, inferred by girths of less than 60cm. The remainder appear to be slightly older, while one was a very large wizened stump, measuring 185cm.

Ground flora was found to be more diverse. Many more tree species were found in the shrub and herb layer in all three forests. Thirteen tree species, all less than 150cm in height, were found at Chaatipur, while eleven were observed at Bajrakot. At Khairpally, ten species of tree were found forming the ground layer. Vegetation was sparse, low, and generally much less high than the other sites. Figure 9.3 shows the total tree species' forming the shrub and herb layer of the three different forests, for comparison. Twenty-six species of tree in all are found over the three sites, and from the bar chart, it can be seen how each site markedly differs from one another.

Discussion

The canopy trees in each of the forests were found to be surprisingly few in species, while the reverse was found for the shrub and herb layer. Diversity indices highlight the difference between the two, with higher values for both diversity and equitability apparent in the herb and shrub layer, in all sites, for tree species. The sites sampled in each forest, for both teak and mahua, were found to be virtual monocultures. That none, or seemingly few species develop into mature trees, indicates a deliberate management strategy for each of the forests sampled.

When asked about the overall management aims regarding the teak forest at Chaatipur, Manju Lata-Rout, member of the VFPC, commented that the villagers did not want mature trees of species other than teak in their protected forest. To this aim, all other saplings are removed in a once yearly exercise, and also occasionally, for festivals. The wood generated from this clearance is used by the village to boil their paddy, a process that prolongs its life. A similar management aim is evident for the teak forest at Bajrakot, where the shrub-layer vegetation, comprised of very young trees, is less than 150cm tall. A member of the VFPC commented that the 'expensive' trees were kept, while the 'cheap' ones were cut for firewood. The mahua forest at Khairpally is also managed for the dominant species, though there is a possibility that there may be conflict between the castes regarding end products. The sparse vegetative cover at Khairpally was the result of recent 'cleaning' and clearing, under the Madhuca indica trees. The ultimate motive for forest protection of these teak and mahua forests, therefore, is not for subsistence usufruct, but for quasi-commercial goals. The communities aim to sell the valuable teak timber or the liquor or oil from mahua flowers, to generate an income. However, regardless of the potential motives for protection, satellite data for Nayagarh District since 1995, show an increase in forest cover of 37 km2, (2.26%) and may well be attributed to the efforts of Ranpur FPC.

What is also apparent, however, and which will be discussed in more detail in the next section, is the widespread conflict community forest protection appears to generate. Conflict not just with other 'users', however legitimate or otherwise their claims, but, more seriously, conflict within communities, as an expression of inequity between castes.

While the large-scale formation of community forest protection committees in Orissa is commendable, and indicative of the widespread process of contesting the hegemony of the Forest Department since 1947, it is also possible that without a greater role of the state in resource management, the most marginalised of rural India will be adversely affected, by their exclusion. Also of relevance, is the issue of forest use. Earlier, it was noted that adivasi and more marginalised groups rely on forest resources to a greater extent than more affluent groups. Given the restrictions of access imposed by the VFPC's, which are not always representative of the wider community, it is very likely, that some groups, which have had access to forests restricted may include more marginal sections of the community more directly dependent upon them. Further, the closure of access to forest resources to 'outsiders' might well apply to adivasis, and the timber mafia alike.

Conclusion

All the studies show that communities are beginning to assert control and define rights of access to local forests, often necessitated by the perceived need to protect biomass resources from 'outside' users, including the Forest Department, the timber mafia, the local elite and business interests. What is surprising, however, is the quasi-commercial goals of forest protection, over the expected biomass for subsistence scenario.

Where once forests were widely used as multi-purpose storehouses for foods, medicines, and a host of other goods, the role of forests to rural communities appear to be changing to one of increasing commodification. Rural organisations would rather market forest products, usually timber, to generate an income in order to buy food and medicine, etc.. This represents a shift in the relationship between rural communities, and forest; certainly all groups interviewed explained how their parents and grandparents were more dependent on the forest than the present generation. However, what is an unsettling prospect, is given the above, VFPC's are perhaps representing the interests of the village elites, with business interests, and greater access to markets, at the expense of other, poorer groups. VFPC's as genuine, democratic vehicles of resource management, or VFPC's as transferring the hegemony of power from one group (FD) to another (village elites)?

 

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