Over the years forest conservation has been a very challenging topic of discussion. With a group of environmentalists saying that Adivasis are responsible for forest destruction and another group challenging this misleading statement, the issue remains unsettled in the minds of many.  Statements by many environmentalists such as "Adivasis kill wildlife by regular hunting" " Jhum* cultivation; collection and consumption of firewood by Adivasis harm the forests" are countered by Adivasi rights activists by "Locals are the best preservers of forests", "Jhum if overdone destroys forests", "Adivasis cannot survive without forests", "Adivasis are the first settlers".  While all these statements based on experience are mostly right, they also are in some way not uniform over all parts of the country.

Adivasis have been very much credited for conserving forests is an established fact in most parts of the country.  Hunting and food gathering by Adivasis has been governed by certain rules of conservation. For instance Pregnant or nursing animals cannot be hunted, plucking fruit from trees is restricted and only picking them off the ground is allowed in some cases etc. However in some cases Adivasis have been responsible for cutting trees but this has been due to sheer penury and starvation. Further, it has been noticed and even proved in numerous cases that it is the Indian forest machinery which has been responsible for destroying forests rather than the Adivasis.  Indian society has put undue faith in the bureaucratic machinery to protect forests, and not involving the Adivasis officially (repeat officially, because unofficially they are anyway involved in protecting the ecosystem).

In the following paragraphs, an attempt is made to provide the reader a few good  studies, findings, views on Adivasis and forest conservation and address the issue.

[Please read the Legal section - the arguments for and against the Scheduled Tribes (Recognition of Forest Rights) Bill, 2005 of this Docs web, in co-relation with this section)


Forest Dwellers are Its Best Protectors

The  world's tropical  rainforests should be handed back to their inhabitants, who protect them better than governments or rangers, and spend more on their upkeep. That is the conclusion of a major review to be presented this week to a UN meeting on the world's tropical forests.

The study, Who Conserves the Forests?, by the Washington-  based Forest Trends group contradicts the popular image of farmers and hunters as the primary destroyers of rainforests. In fact, forest dwellers are a bigger and more effective force for conservation than park authorities, and are often better forest researchers than foreign scientists, the report's co-author Augusta Molnar says.

To read further click here.

Who Owns, Who Conserves and Why it Matters?
When thinking about forest tenure and conservation, it is important to recall that there are somewhere between 1 and 1.5 billion of the world’s poorest people living in and around forests. Recent studies indicate that about 80 per cent of the extreme poor – those living on less than one dollar a day – depend on forest resources for their livelihoods. These people, many of whom are Indigenous Peoples, have often had their human and property rights denied or worse, have been dispossessed of their ancestral lands.

For full report click here.  Go to page 8 directly.

Green justice: Fell a tree, plant 100

Planting saplings 100 times more than the damage caused by the culprit has come to become a rule in Giriajore Panchayat in Kurdega block of Simdega district after the VRS a green team of the area, has imposed a blanket ban on tree-felling in the area since February this year.

'Our main objective is not only to protect the forest cover from getting depleted further but at the same time we also aim at the augmentation of vegetation in our work area. And with the support from the local villagers we are confident of turning our block into a lush green landscape in the time to come,' said Ravindra Bara, the President of Van Raksha Samiti (Simdega).

To read further click here.

Protecting the tree cover

A novel project by the Bandipur National Park authorities to provide alternative cooking fuel to the locals, who have been relying heavily on firewood till now, might go a long way in the conservation of trees in the park

To read further click here.

* ON JHUM CULTIVATION: (Three reports)

Known as "shifting cultivation", "slash and burn cultivation", "rotating cultivation", Jhum or Podu cultivation is practiced by considerable Adivasi groups to sustain themselves. It is a method whereby a patch of forest land is cleared by slashing and burning away the plants, trees and cultivating the land for a few years.  Once the soil loses its fertility in this land, another piece of forest land is chosen where the same process is followed. In the meanwhile the earlier forest  which was slashed and burnt regenerates itself.  In previous times Adivasis used to return to the used up forest land after a gap of 30 years thereby allowing the forest in the area to become rich in nutrients.  But oflate this gap has reduced to about 5 years.  Jhum cultivation has been very debatable and a generalised assessment on whether it is beneficial or detrimental cannot be made for the entire country, though one of the parameters  for it to sustain (Hindu June 04) without being destructive is if the population density  is  4 or less square miles.

Jhum farming destroys forest cover in North-East India
It is this method of cultivation that is solely responsible for the alarming depletion of land resources in northeast India. For the first time a government sponsored study used space technology like satellite remote sensing and geographic information system for the purpose of bio prospecting and conservation. This study found that about 0.45 million families in Northeast India annually cultivate 10,000 square kilometres of forests. With the phenomenal increase in human population, the cycle of shifting or jhum cultivation has decreased from 20-30 years to about 5 years and even up to 3 years in many areas. The total area already affected by this method of cultivation is around 44,000 square kilometres. These are the gloomy results of this study on biodiversity characterization at the landscape level, jointly conducted by the department of space and the department of biotechnology in 1997.
To read further click here.

Bias against shifting cultivation: Centre for Integrated Mountain Development
The International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD) has called for a change in the 'negative bias' against shifting (Jhum) cultivation which was the dominant land use system across the north-eastern India. Besides North-east, this type of cultivation is prevalent across much of the Chittagong Hill Tracts of Bangladesh, Eastern Bhutan, Myanmar, Cambodia, northern Thailand, Vietnam and some parts of China, ICIMOD director general J Gabriel Campbell told a press conference here yesterday.
To read more click here.

Jhum works: Shillong declaration declares Jhum cultivation environment-friendly

So  the so-called 'primitive' hill farmers were right after all. At the Regional Shifting Cultivation Policy Dialogue Workshop for Eastern Himalayas, held October 8-10, 2004 in Shillong, Jhum (shifting) cultivation was pronounced "good for the environment, livelihoods, biodiversity conservation and food and social security." Hill farmers knew this all along. Struggling under misconceived policies that pronounced them perpetrators of the worst kind of environmental degradation in the hills, for them it was sweet music to hear international experts and government officials agreeing that jhum was the "best possible practice" for mountainous regions of the world.

The workshop ended with a resolution termed the Shillong Declaration. It urges governments and policymakers to recognise jhums immense utility and so shift policy from its current emphasis on "weaning away" hill farmers from a "primitive" style of cultivation. Policy could now turn supportive, the declaration argued, also demanding that the tenurial rights of jhum cultivators be recognised.
To read more click here.

Recommended readings at CED:

1.. "Shifting cultivation - A Search for Alternatives" by Dr. Sangram Keshari Jena, 1990
CED code: R.E23d.1

Half of forest area fire-prone: report

Communities intentionally set fire to forests for various reasons in different parts of the country. The pine (Pinus roxburghi) forests are set on fire during summer to promote growth of herbaceous vegetation for fodder during monsoon; forest patches are burnt to practice `jhum' or shifting agriculture, and fire is caused by the local communities to collect non-timber forest products such as `Mahua' (Madhuca latifolia) fruits or is traditionally set on fire by some tribal communities to propitiate local deities.

In the western side, tribals burn forests to celebrate the birth of a son and in the Western Ghats, fires are set in the forests on the upper hill slopes just before the advent of the monsoon to use mineral-rich ash that is washed down to make agriculture fields fertile.

To read full report click here.

"Free for all" forests

Groups of social activists are getting  together across India to oppose the Supreme Court's recent instructions to evict all encroachers from forestlands. I have a point (a worry, disappointment and fear actually) that I would like such activists, including those who would have slums resettled in the Sanjay Gandhi National Park, Borivali, to consider. The real displacement of forest dwellers takes place when forests are cut down. Over the past three decades have groups representing forest dwellers done enough to actually PREVENT forests from being cut down? Or have they considered their task done by championing the rights of forest dwellers to live in and access the ever-dwindling forests that OTHER groups have managed to protect from dams, mines, roads and other urban developments including World Bank-style forestry projects?

To read further click here.

Recommended readings:

1.. Chipko - A novel movement for establishment of cordial relationship between man and nature, 1981            R.E60.18

2.. Where Communities Care:- Community based wildlife and ecosystem management in South Asia, Kalpavriksh, 2000.   Avialable with CED. No. - E22a.K.1