Community Forest Management in Budhikhamari, Orissa


Budhikhamari village is in Mayurbhanj District, north-east Orissa, near to the border with the neighbouring state of West Bengal. The characteristic forest of this region is sal, (Shorea robusta), which constitutes the dominant species in a large belt of forest that extends across the humid east, from the Chotanagpur plateau of Bihar, through West Bengal and Orissa. Orissa represents the approximate southern distribution for sal, and is the state where the two dominant species of Indian forests meet, sal and teak, (Tectona grandis) (Padhi, 1994).

Budhikhamari village is a mixed village of different castes, with a small adivasi population, also. The settlement is in an area, Mayurbhanj District that has a high percentage of adivasis. Out of the 130 households in Budhikhamari, 5 are big landholders, owning or occupying land more than 3 acres, 10 are landless, and the rest own or occupy smallholdings of less than 2.5 acres, from which a single, rain-fed crop of paddy is produced.

The sal forests of Budhikhamari have a history of intensive exploitation and deforestation that can be traced back to the colonial era. Mayurbhanj District came under British occupation in 1803. The dense forest of the area was appropriated to serve the needs of empire, and zamindars encouraged the spread of villages and cultivation. Writing in 1895-96, the British Forest Officer of the time, Mr C.C Hart notes:

'The plains and accessible parts have nearly all been denuded of mature sal, except in one place in the plains of the south-west' (in Mishra, 1993).

Since independence, the local sal forests have continued to be subjected to severe degradation, some areas being clear-felled for industry, but also by the ‘timber mafia’; a highly organised group that illegally fells and smuggles timber from the forests, and of course unorganised subsistence demands. In the absence of any co-ordinated, rigorous management, and due to degraded village commons also (Mishra, 1993), the diminishing forests were therefore subjected to increasing pressure from the local population (some of which gained temporary employment from contractors, possibly also the timber mafia, for helping fell their local forests -Mishra (1993) describes it as a ‘nexus between the greedy rich and the needy poor’).

Considerable deforestation occurred in this region in the 1960’s, and by the early 1980’s, the local population was experiencing a scarcity of forest resources, particularly firewood, and also relate some other negative effects that they attribute to the large-scale loss of forested land. Streams reportedly dried up and wells ran dry, while wind erosion of agricultural land increased. Villagers report to having to increase the amount of organic matter to crops, to maintain fertility. Locals also report a perceived reduction in the amount and intensity of rain, as attributable to forest loss. The forest of Budhikhamari by the early 1980’s was severely degraded, and locals were having to coppice sal, though at this time, the ‘forest’ was apparently little more than a metre high. Therefore, the little wood that was being generated from sal rootstock was being harvested at a rate faster than replenishment, and barely reaching a metre in height. The estimated household need of 15-20 quintals (1 quintal = 100 Kg) of wood was not being met by the degraded forest.

At this low point, the villagers were afraid the little wood they harvested would simply run out, as they had experienced a decline in available fuel year on year. Further, the timber mafia became increasingly active in the area, which fuelled conflict, and acted as a catalyst in spontaneous forest protection (Padhi, pers. comm.). Consequently, in 1982 the Sarpanch or village head, Gorachand Mohanta, called a meeting between several of the villages around the adjacent forests, and the group declared a moratorium on the collection of wood from several areas of forest, which they would protect. From this initial meeting, the Budhikhamari Village Forest Protection Committee was formed. The group essentially followed the same structure as the village panchayats, or village councils. With the consensus of the villages involved, areas were set aside from use, listed in table 7.1 with the aim that complete protection would allow regeneration.

Table 7.1: Forest initially set aside from use, around Budhikhamari

Area set aside

Size in hectares











Instead of using wood for fuel, the villagers of Budhikhamari used agricultural wastes, usually paddy residue. By 1987 the protected areas of forest were beginning to regenerate and the Budhikhamari VFPC was brought to the attention of the Forest Department, who sought to formalise the VFPC structure, and incorporate it into the JFM scheme. Briefly, under JFM in Orissa, a committee is formed, which generally stipulates a greater representation of the village. As well as 5 volunteers from each village, there must be two additional women, and usually some specific provision is made for scheduled caste or adivasi. In this way the hegemony of power often found in the village panchayat can potentially be overcome.

Budhikhamari and some surrounding villages, 95 in total were consequently organised into a Joint Forest Protection Committee. To ensure that the areas of forest were protected, a rota system of policing was organised, called Thengapalli, whereby a stick is passed around the households of the village, whose responsibility it is to patrol the protected areas near their village. In addition, a permanent and salaried mobile patrol force of 30 was organised, funded by small donations, usually Rs5 from each household per month. Revenue is also raised by charging ‘outside’ users a rupee a bag for small amounts of lopped wood and twigs. Punitive measures and fines were introduced for anyone found taking wood, and if significant amounts of wood are recovered from an illegal felling, the proceeds from the sale fund further protection. In this way, forests around Budhikhamari have been protected since the early 1980’s.

To determine the impact and effectiveness of forest protection, fieldwork was undertaken in the woods around Budhikhamari. The population structure of sal, the dominant species, was considered, as a measure of regeneration. Ordinarily, a forest should have varied age classes from young to senescent trees. It was hoped that, if the forest was severely degraded twenty years before, and less than one metre high, this would be reflected in a study of the population structure, where only young trees should be found. Also, features of management may be discerned through sampling.

Methodology in the field

  1. Six areas were picked that were considered representative of the forest, and a plot of 20 X 20m was marked off with coloured string. Here, two distinct areas were each sampled three times; one area was last coppiced in 1971/2, referred to as ‘old coppice’ and the other area was last coppiced in 1975/6, referred to as ‘new coppice'. Although it is more customary to use plots of 10 X 10m when sampling forest, here a larger plot was considered necessary as population structure was being examined.
  2. All trees in each plot were identified to species (in the field, most trees other than sal were noted by their local names usually, and then formally identified later).
  3. All trees greater than 10cm in diameter were measured. Girth at breast height (GBH), (approximately 130cm) was recorded.


  1. Frequency diagrams of the sal sampled from six sites were constructed. GBH measurements were converted into age classes. This was achieved by using a forester’s handbook (Maslekar, 1977), which features outturn and yield tables of Shorea robusta. Idealised diameter was calculated from the girth. Although only 10 year classes are considered in this handbook, a graph was made, and 5 year classes in-between were read from the graph. In this way 5-year age classes, in cm were calculated. Sal measurements of GBH were then designated to age classes.
  2. Densities of sal per metre were calculated.
  3. A Kruskal-Wallace test for the GBH at 6 sites was undertaken, to determine any statistical difference between them. (The data was interpreted as non-normally distributed, and appeared to have a positive skew) H=[12/(N(N+1) x (S Ri2/NI)]-3(N+1)
  4. Basal area (m2) and volume (m3) for Shorea robusta were calculated per hectare.
  5. Standing biomass and leaf productivity for Shorea robusta were calculated per hectare.
  6. A rank-abundance diagram was made.
  7. Shannon diversity index (H=S PilnPi) and equitability index (J=H/lnS) were calculated.



Table 7.2 shows the data collected from Budhikhamari Forest. Six sites were sampled in total, in two areas of forest under different management scenarios. Sites 1,2,3 were 'old coppice', while sites 4,5,6 were 'new coppice'. Variation between sites is evident. Generally, fewer trees were found in the older sites; 197 trees total at sites1-3, compared to 287 total trees at sites 4-6, therefore tree densities are lower (except site 2, which at 0.22, is marginally greater than the tree density site 5, at 0.21 trees per m2). Older sites also showed fewer tree species. Mean number of species in sites1-3 is 5, compared to 7 for the younger sites. However, statistically, no difference was found between the six sites. A Kruskal-Wallace test employed on the data found H=9.8, smaller than the critical chi square (P=0.05, df=5), 11.07, thus any difference between sites was not statistically significant.

Sal clearly dominates all six sites, and accounts for over 85% (mean percentage) of all trees sampled in Budhikhamari Forest. Relative proportions of tree species are shown graphically in figure 7.2. The rank abundance diagram in fig:7.6 appears geometric, and indicates an inequitable distribution of species. Shannon diversity index was calculated as 0.66, while equitability was relatively low, at 0.25. Figures 7.1a-l show the age structure of Shorea robusta in sites 1-6. Generally, few age classes are present, of which 49% are in the age-class of 10-14 years, as can be seen from figures 7.4 and 7.5. Oldest sal are found in site 3, and are no more than 34 years old.

Thirteen other tree species were observed in Budhikhamari Forest, sites 1-6. Aggregate frequency diagrams of these other species are shown in figures 7.3a-l, demonstrating their sparse distribution. Most are seen to occur singly, or in very low numbers, with the notable exception of Terminalia tomestosa. However, these other species are found to be of small girth; the largest was found to be Jaia at a maximum of 53cm girth.


Table 7.2: Data from six sites, Budhikhamari Forest, Orissa
Site* Total trees Total sal Total other


Number tree species Density trees m2
1 Old coppice 60 48 (80) 12 (20) 5 0.15
2 " " 88 80 (91) 8 (9) 6 0.22
3 " " 49 40 (82) 9 (18) 4 0.12
4 New coppice 98 78 (79.6) 20 (20.4) 8 0.245
5 " " 84 73 (87) 11 (13) 8 0.21
6 " " 102 97 (95.1) 5 (4.9) 5 0.255

*All sites 20x20m. Figures in brackets are percentages.

Below shows the calculations for basal area, volume, standing biomass and leaf productivity. Mean basal area, per hectare was 14.57m2, while mean volume per hectare was 70.14m3. Standing biomass was calculated as 61.9 tonnes per hectare, mean and leaf productivity per hectare, per year, was calculated as 3.23 dry tonnes per year, 2761 tonnes for the whole of Budhikhamari Forest.

Table 7.3: Data on regenerating Shorea robusta, Budhikhamari, Orissa
  Basal area1

(m2 ha-1)


(m3 ha-1)


biomass 3

(ton ha-1)

Leaf productivity 4

(dry ton ha-1 year-1)

Site 1





Site 2





Site 3





Site 4





Site 5





Site 6










Total for Budhikhamari Forest (855ha) 12457.35m2


52924.5 tonnes

2761.65 dry tonnes per year

1:Basal area (BA) = p r2 where r= radius at breast height

2:Volume = -149.49x6 + 326.03x5 - 274x4 + 116.2x3 - 15.418x2 + 0.9861x (r2=1) where x= diameter at breast height. Based on regional average volume table for Mayurbhanj District. (Chakrabarti and Gaharwar 1998).

3:Standing biomass = 39.156+0.1011(BA)2 (R2=0.91). (Joint Forest Management Field Methods Manual)

4:Leaf productivity= 1.456+0.1219 (BA) (R2=0.79) (Joint Forest Management Field Methods Manual)



Forest composition and management

Figure 7.2 shows the relative proportions of tree species in the six sampled sites of Budhikhamari Forest. In all sites sal clearly dominates, accounting for over 80% of the trees in each site. Although thirteen other species are also present, these are sparsely distributed over the six sampled areas. Nonetheless, the additional species are often considered as 'useful' species, such as jamu, (Syzygium cumini), valued for its edible berries, arjun (Terminalia arjuna), for medicine and tannins, and its wood is considered good for furniture making.

Although no quantitative data was taken from the ground layer, it was noted that there were many shrubs, but more notably, an abundance of young saplings in all six sites sampled. Where the canopy was more open, due to fewer trees, e.g. site 3 density trees/m2 = 0.12, compared to site 6 where density trees/m2 =0.25, the ground flora was more dense and greater in height, making movement around the site sometimes difficult. The saplings were frequently sal, but other species were also noted. Together, the data suggests that that the forest is being protected and managed overwhelmingly for sal on a quasi-commercial basis; for timber, for seeds, which yield oil, and for leaves, which are widely used in plate-making - a thriving local cottage industry (see plate 7.2 below), though of course, the villagers' biomass needs are also catered for. The virtual monoculture of Shorea robusta is also indicative of intensive use in the past; sal being a hardy coppicer has managed to regenerate from cropping, almost to the exclusion of other, less hardy local species (Mishra, 1993). As such, intensive coppicing has resulted in very low tree diversity in this region, which is probably exacerbated by the quasi-commercial goals of the present management regime.

Figures 7.1a-f: Frequency diagrams for six sites sampled from Budhikhamari sal (Shorea robusta) forest. Sites 1,2,3 are 'old' coppice from 1971/72, sites 4,5,6 are 'new' coppice from 1975/6
ChartObject Site 1 ChartObject Site 4
ChartObject Site 2 ChartObject Site 5
ChartObject Site 3 ChartObject Site 6

Chart Fig.7.2: Proportions of Tree Species, Budhikhamari Forest

Fig.7.3a-l:Frequency histograms for trees other than Shorea robusta, sites 1-6 aggregated, Budhikhamari forest
ChartObject Terminalia arjuna ChartObject Buchanania lanzan
ChartObject Terminalia tomestosa ChartObject Jaia (local name)
ChartObject Annona squamosa ChartObject Syzygium cumini
ChartObject Terminalia chebula ChartObject Diospyrous melanoxylon
ChartObject Aegle marmelos ChartObject Holorrhena antidysenterica
ChartObject Datura stramonium ChartObject Sirshi (local name)

ChartObject Fig.7.4: Histogram for Shorea robusta in Budhikhamari forest, Orissa (six sites aggregated)

ChartObject Fig.7.6:Rank-abundance diagram for Budhikhamari Forest

Overall management of the forest seems to be rather ad-hoc and perhaps too informal. As Singh, (1991) points out in a book about community-based forest management systems, forest management is referred to as a system of use regulation and rules regarding protection, rather than strictly technical, or 'scientific' management of forests. A similar distinction appears to be relevant here. The president of Budhikhamari VFPC, Gorachand Mohanta, indicated that timber extraction is undertaken when density of sal is high, and thinning is perceived as necessary (borne out to some extent, by collected data), otherwise some coppicing is undertaken. No organised and regular extraction occurs, such as the working of coupes in conventional forestry. When wood in any significant quantity of timber is needed by a villager, other than for a cremation, they must apply to the committee. Whether such an informal management can form the basis of a robust and sustainable regime, is perhaps open to question.

Forest age and management

The frequency diagrams (Figures 7.1a-e) clearly show the forest is young, either because effective protection has allowed regeneration from a degraded state, or because the harvest rate and management regime does not allow trees to age beyond a certain limit, or perhaps both.

This fieldwork shows that the sal, much of it coppiced, is no older than 30 years, though one site in the ‘old’ coppice area of 1971/1972 shows trees of upto 35 years. Generally, few age classes are present, and most (49%), are in the age-class of 10-14 years, for the old and the new coppiced sites. The data appear to indicate that trees over the age of 15 years are harvested, either selectively thinned as part of a long-term management strategy, or used as a timber resource. It is possible that sites 1,2,3 are further along the management cycle. These sites have, in total 197 trees, in contrast to the more densely populated sites 4-6, which were found to have a total of 284. Sites 4-6 are also found to have more trees in the age class 10-14 years, which might indicate that thinning would be undertaken soon, if the management regime is similar across sites. Sites 4-6 are found to have more older trees present, perhaps reflecting the greater proximity from Budhikhamari Village, and also indicating a more intensive use by the village of the closer sites 1-3. However, statistically, no significant difference was found between the six sites.

As this analysis is a ‘snapshot’ of the forest at the time of sampling, it is not possible to determine from this data what the forest was like at any time in the past. The data therefore does not necessarily support the information given by the villagers that the forest was little more than scrub one metre high in the 1970’s, though nor does it contradict it. Given that several villagers offered anecdotes about the degraded state of the forest about twenty years ago, it seems, in all probability, that the regeneration of forest has occurred, but whether it will remain in a similar state is not possible to predict.

What is not possible to extrapolate from this data, is what the population structure may be in 10, 20 years time. If there is an increased age to the forest, forest protection will prove to be a significant and successful component in long term forest regeneration. On the other hand, an intense regime of harvesting may well stall the forest at an interrupted successional level. There is nothing wrong with that per se, and forest harvested at 10-15 years is preferable, from a resource-yield viewpoint, than forest less than one metre high.

However, ultimately, if demand is found to increase in the near future, then the long term future of this regenerating forest may be jeopardised, as harvest is already maximised at a very low age class, about 15 years here.

Effects of forest regeneration

Villagers of Budhikhamari relay an overall improvement in their quality of life since the rejuvenation of the forest. Although they are not as critically dependent on the forest as their families were earlier in the century, forest resources are currently valued for both subsistence and their role in cottage industries. Protection of the forest has allowed regeneration, which has considerably increased wood availability. While degraded scrub shows a negligible or zero basal area, which by all accounts describes Budhikhamari twenty years ago, the regenerated forest was found to have a mean basal area of 14.57m2 ha-1. Calculations of timber volume show a range from 46 to 99 m3 ha-1, while the mean volume was found to be 70.14 m3 ha-1. Standing biomass, shown in table 7.3 gives an indication of total biomass, including twigs. According to the Methods Manual on JFM, approximately 5% of standing biomass can be harvested annually, and sustained. Therefore, from the total standing biomass shown for Budhikhamari, of 52924.5 tonnes, it follows that 2646 tonnes, or 26462 quintals can be harvested sustainably. Interestingly, this figure is approximately an order of magnitude greater than the biomass needs of the village, based on every household (130), requiring 15-20 quintals, as reported by the villagers, giving a total of 260 tonnes, or 2600 quintals. Therefore, the village's biomass needs are being adequately met by the forest once more.

With an increase in sal, there has been an increase in leaves, which, by the Sarpanch's estimation employs 80% of Budhikhamari's households (particularly women) in the making and pressing of plates. Calculations find that the regenerating forest produces approximately 2760 tonnes of dry leaves, therefore signifying an increased potential in cottage industries for the villagers. Whether this has made a tangible difference to the household economy though, is more a political question, as marketing of sal leaves are either through the government, or through commercial dealers, both of which pay a rate that does not necessarily reflect the work involved. Co-operative marketing in Budhikhamari village has not been possible, due to the poverty of the people.

Although species richness of the forest has been widely noted by the villagers as declining since earlier in the century, there are still resources that are appreciated and are considered as a dietary supplement, such as tubers and fungi. Non-edible resources are many and include wood for implements, oils, tannins, and lac and binding material; of which a 'new' species had just been discovered. Resources from the forest had increased over the last twenty years. Villagers had also noted an increase in animals, such as deer, bear, wild cat, porcupines, reptiles, even a recent visitation from a tusker, which was seen as an additional positive factor.

The villagers also perceive an improvement in their environment, as attributable to increased forest cover; a reduction in organic material necessary to maintain fertility in the fields, a reduction of wind erosion, and an increase in the local water table (though this could not be investigated further, due to time constraints). The perceived services of forest, therefore, may be a strong motivating factor in protection.



According to Malhotra et al (1998), the British, through the zamindars, exploited sal on a coppice rotation of 5-15 years in south West Bengal. By the 1940's vast tracts were denuded of tree cover, and such an intensive regime could not be maintained. It is interesting to note that sal appears to be worked on rotation of fifteen years in Budhikhamari, which begs the question as to the sustainability of the current regime. Certainly if cycles are shortened, then the forest may become degraded again, however, as noted earlier, this would depend upon management of and demand for sal products in the future. Management, however, appears to be rather ad-hoc, and may not be organised or robust enough to form a lasting, sustainable system.

Although the data cannot explicitly support the notion of forest regeneration, as it is no more than a snapshot of the present forest, the data, nonetheless shows a young forest. Along with anecdotes of regeneration, and of course, the work of the Village Forest Protection Committee, formed as a measure to stem organised timber theft of resources that are understood to 'belong' (if only informally) to the village, a collective form of management and protection appears to have facilitated the re-growth of a once degraded forest. Such rehabilitation is a considerable achievement, and the current benefits gleaned from the forest in terms of products and services may perhaps provide the necessary incentive for sustained protection by the villagers of Budhikhamari, particularly as adverse conditions associated with lack of forest have been experienced by the village.

The president of the VFPC, Gorachand Mohanta, articulated the views of the villagers when he said that it was up to the local community to protect and manage their forests, given the lack of commitment by the Forest Department. Although the FD have been broadly supportive of Budhikhamari VFPC, the villagers are hostile towards the department and do not trust its motives, particularly as the FD has tried to claim success in organising the protection, and 'bask in the glory' of what is now being called the 'Budhikhamari model'. Budhikhamari VFPC, therefore, has not been incorporated into the official JFM structure, but remains, as it was formed, a peoples' initiative.

However, when fieldwork was being undertaken, no forest protection was occurring, due to conflicts between the FPC members. Given that Mayurbhanj district has a downwards trend in forest cover, the most recent assessments from satellites show a 5.35% reduction between 1995-1997 (MOEF, 1998), active forest protection may be critical in maintaining the forests needed by Budhikhamari and surrounds.

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