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Planning for the Forest's Future
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Planning for the Forest's Future
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India: The Scavengers
In Northern India, the Bhalyani forestry department is taking an inclusive approach to environmental management. In this video, members of the local community tell the story of how they helped to establish the different facets of this sustainable project, including some of the challenges they faced.
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Segment 1

VOICEOVER
Bhalyani Panchayat is a collection of small villages that lie high in the mountains above Kullu. The area was included in phase one of the ODA [Official Development Assistance]-supported Sustainable Forest Management project in the mid-1990s, which was extended to more areas of Himachal Pradesh in phase two. The overall objectives of this project were to engage the participation of communities in forest management and conservation, tasks that had hitherto been carried out exclusively by the Forest Department. But local contexts make a difference to how policy translates into practice.
DEVKI DEVI [Member, Bhalyani Joint Forest Management Committee]
On the day of the meeting, the forest officials, the Pradhan, and the whole community were there. They told us that there was new a plantation project that we should work on.
JAI CHAND [Forest Guard, Himachal Pradesh Forest Department]
We gathered people together, and told them that the forest officials can't work alone because it's the villagers who damage the forest. They can save it and they can harm it. So we brought them together and told them that we want to save the forest, and we need everyone's participation in the project.
VOICEOVER
The project was a challenging change of direction for the Forest Department's frontline staff. Previously their role was to police the forest, but now they were being asked to abandon their uniforms for village visits, and play a social development role.
JAI CHAND
At the beginning, we couldn't get people together. They'd say: "This is the Forest Department's work, it has nothing to do with us." Then we decided to speak to a few men so they would pass the message on, and then people started to get together. We asked for the village leaders or rich men and told them about our work. Then they explained to others: "This work affects us also, and we should work with them [the Forest Department]." Then the elite men showed other villagers the destruction in the forest, and said: "Look, this is the kind of damage." Then people got together at their request.
VOICEOVER
Like the Forest Department, the community also had to get used to this more consultative approach. However, once they understood what the Forest Department was asking of them, they had to prioritize for themselves where the forest conservation and erosion control work on offer was to be carried out.
DAVLAT SINGH [President, Bhalyani Joint Forest Management Committee]
There are members from every village [in the panchayat]. Each village decides where to put grass, where seedlings and other work are needed. Because everyone has an opinion, we decide these things in meetings.
VOICEOVER
Ensuring that everybody's views are represented is a challenge in any community, as all too often the rich and more powerful have undue influence on decision-making, which can sometimes lead to conflict. However, in this project, consensus appeared to be the norm.
DEVKI DEVI
One person's opinion isn't taken over by another's in our meetings. We all speak amongst ourselves, and then begin work.
DAVLAT SINGH
No, there's never been any trouble. It doesn't happen, because we all work together with the same goal.
VOICEOVER
As a result of the project, grazing and lopping of trees for fodder was restricted in five hectares of forest, which were enclosed for natural regeneration. Saplings were supplied for a new two-hectare plantation, and two check-dams were built for soil conservation. Generally, people seem to like the new way of working.
JAI CHAND
I think it's going well. What could be better than this? I believe that working with the people is the best way.
DAVLAT SINGH
It's like this: unless we work together with the Forest Department, the work won't succeed. The Forest Department alone won't do anything like planting seedlings, or planting grass, unless we want to work together and support them. Because in areas where the Forest Department has done work before and the villagers didn't participate, it didn't work. For instance, where they have enclosed seedlings, if villagers let their animals graze there, how can it succeed? If we villagers agree and want to save it, then we should support them. With this support, those seedlings will grow, and the grazing in the forest stops.
JAI CHAND
This is a good method. Before, people used to do a lot of lopping. But now I'm seeing that people are starting to do the right thing in the right way. It won't stop completely, but there is less harm being done to the forests.
VOICEOVER
The Sustainable Forest Management Project wound up in 2001, and was followed by the DFID [UK Department for International Development]-supported Himachal Pradesh Forest Sector Reforms Project in 2003. This project extended the reach of participatory planning beyond forestry, and took a livelihood-centered approach to the design of micro-plans for the development of whole panchayats. Although led by the Forest Department, State Planning, Agriculture, and Rural Development Departments were also involved. The first step was to find out quite quickly what communities needed, and then they drew up "micro-plans."
FARHAD VANIA [Team Leader, Himachal Pradesh Forest Sector Reforms Project]
This is linked to previous phases of the project, when "participatory rural appraisal" (PRA), as it was originally called, and now it's called several different names, came into the forest sector. There are focus group discussions that are held, there's some amount of resource mapping that happens, there's also assessments of trying to put priority: people are basically given to understand that there's a limited amount of resources, and there's a lot of things that you could put those resources down into. On priority, what is it that a community would like to do? And that becomes a collective participatory decision that then comes into the micro-plan.
VOICEOVER
The project is taking place in only 85 panchayats of some 3,200 in Himachal Pradesh, which by Indian standards is a relatively well-off state. With its livelihood focus, this second phase of intervention is targeted at the poorest panchayats in the state. Mangarh Panchayat, a few kilometers from Bhalyani, is one.
NAGIR CHAND [Forest Guard, Himachal Pradesh Forest Department]
We applied a few PRA tools in making the micro-plans. We made a social map and we did a transect walk. Then all the information we got was put into the micro-plan.
SHABAN LAL [Group Organizer, Mangarh]
We got some paper and we recorded all the needs of a particular ward: this is needed; this kind of work should be done. Then we gave the paper to the project staff. They put up notices and we had more discussions about what we should do in the ward. We then incorporated this into the micro-plan.
NAGIR CHAND
There were difficulties at first. About a quarter of the people understood, but three-quarters didn't. They didn't know what the problems were. They didn't understand how to do the PRA, or what it was about. This is because there's a lot of illiteracy here, there are only a few literate men. But after many meetings, people are beginning to understand.
VOICEOVER
According to the Forest Guards, low literacy levels in a community affect not only how long it takes people to understand the objectives of the project, but also how much people participate, and whose voices are heard, especially when it comes to planning and prioritizing projects from the limited resources available. But once people saw the material benefits, their attitudes seemed to change, although some compulsion was needed.
SHABAN LAL
Everyone was involved. This project has a special focus on the poor. In the ward development committee that we formed, we included more poor people, those who are downtrodden because of poverty.
NATHI DEVI [Secretary, Mangarh Self-Help Committee]
First we'd ask, "What's in it for us? Nothing." We thought, "You're wasting our time." But now they tease us and say, "Look at your savings and how much you have sold!" So we've changed our minds. For example, compost is good. We can use it in our fields and don't have to buy it.
SHABAN LAL
Most people in the ward were with us. There were a few men who didn't support us, saying, "It's not like this; it won't happen like that." But we went to their homes and spoke with them. We asked them to come to our meetings, and told them, "That's how it is and if you don't abide by it, we can take you to court and file a claim against you." We believe that it's vital to have people's support in this area. So we told them, if you don't join us, we'll exclude you from many other things. So now they have joined, and we don't have some people doing whatever they please. There's no problem now.
NATHI DEVI
They do act on some of our ideas and some of their own. But sometimes we need to go along with them. Isn't that how it is? We follow what we believe to be true: those who tell the truth.
SHABAN LAL
What's happening is what they want. It's not just what the important village men want that's listened to and followed.
VOICEOVER
For the Forest Guards, the planning process itself helped to ensure that the real needs of the community were addressed, rather than those of a vocal elite. The micro-plans set out clearly and publicly the community's priorities.
NAGIR CHAND
The micro-plans have been very useful. We can understand the actual position and get a clear view about what conditions are like. We understood all this through the PRA. We need to focus on people who depend most on the forest. When they have sustainable livelihoods, then the pressure on the forest will be reduced, and I think this will benefit our natural resources.
FARHAD VANIA
Micro-planning itself has been tried in different sectors in India, but now is almost a decade and a half that it's been tried in the forest sector, and it becomes a sort of an institutional record of the expectations of a community. Now again here also, there are, in the use of these tools, there are challenges. Often staff haven't ever done micro-planning, so we have to give them some amount of orientation, some amount of training, and then they go out and do it, and they don't necessarily get it right the first time around. So there's a learning that happens in that, both for the communities as well as for the departments who are trying to do this kind of planning.

Segment 2

VOICEOVER
Paonta Forest Division lies on the edge of the lowland plains close to the border with Haryana, and was not involved in the phase one ODA Sustainable Forest Management Project. Its focus is to harness forest resources directly for income generation and livelihoods.
PUSHPENDRA RANA [Division Forest Officer, Paonta Sahib]
Sustainable forest management was an issue, was a concept that was always there, but now sustainable forest management has to be a little bit more purposeful in having the needs and the demands of the public in view. There is a need to establish the linkage between sustainability of the resource and how you can link the sustainability of the resource to the sustainability of the livelihood of the people.
VOICEOVER
Palhori is a group of scattered hamlets set out along a river valley, which leads into the neighboring state of Haryana. The people here are mostly itinerant herders from scheduled castes and tribes who live at subsistence level. Involving them in the planning of their community's development is a new challenge.
YASIN ALI [Forest Guard, Himachal Pradesh Forest Department]
There were several steps to this. A few officials from the project explained the process in a meeting. The pradhan was present, and all the people living in the area. At the meeting they were asked, "What would be the best way to protect the forest, a way in which both you benefit and the forest is maintained?" Then a working plan was made that included the people's suggestions.
VOICEOVER
In Pushpendra Rana's view, the people's needs are so basic and obvious that there was no need to go through a detailed and time-consuming micro-planning process. This was finding out very fast!
PUSHPENDRA RANA
The dominant problems were visuals, there was no need of any long format, or questionnaires, or anything. What we did, we just went there, we just identified a few problems, after having a series of meetings with them, we run through each problem with them, identify the problem, we worked on their solutions: how can that problem be solved, and how that particular problem can turn into an opportunity to generate forest-based livelihoods.
RAGHUVEER SINGH [Pradhan, Palhori]
Here, people's main occupation is raising animals. People meet their household needs by selling them. The animals need fodder. Before, you could find fodder nearby, but now it's becoming scarce. And that's why people thought we should focus on fodder for our animals first, and on our river. There used to be a lot of water in our river; it met our needs, and people grew fodder plants in their fields. But now the water in the river has decreased. So we decided to focus on both water and fodder, because both these things are decreasing.
SIGN
H.P. Forest Department Office. Divisional Forest Officer. Paonta Sahib Forest Division.
VOICEOVER
After deciding on the needs, groups were formed to plan and oversee the actual implementation.
SIGN
Prosperity through forestry
PUSHPENDRA RANA
As budget was the limit, and activities were more, we just told the public, we just floated idea that only those activities would be taken which would be protective in nature and will help in sustainability, and help in your generation of forest-based livelihoods.
RAGHUVEER SINGH
They made groups. Four or five small groups were made in this village. In those, people decided that we want a well first, or hand pumps, or to make a plantation. All of this was based on the group's wishes.
YASIN ALI
The people's demands were listened to. Before, projects would come from the top, whatever the government decided would be done without considering whether it would benefit people or not. But now, projects are planned with the people. If people want certain work, they say, "We need this work done," and the Forest Department proceeds with that in mind.
VOICEOVER
The project has brought very obvious physical benefits to Palori in terms of improved water resources and plantations. But whether it has made a lasting impact on the community's ability to participate in sustainable forest management remains to be seen.
RAGHUVEER SINGH
When the group committees were set up, people were told that this project would run until December 2006. After that we'd have to look after it ourselves, but the Forest Department would assist us. People do have some knowledge now, but they need more awareness about the forest, so that the work that has been done in the forest progresses.
TITLE
In the village of Barog Beneri, the forestry project involves local women
HARI SHASAN VERMA [Forest Ranger, Himachal Pradesh Forest Department]
In our region, Paonta, the most backward [poorest] panchayats were chosen to participate [in the Himachal Pradesh Forest Sector Reforms Project]. The plan's aims included both the well-being of people and the well-being of the forest. The department encouraged people to contribute, and with them we were able to develop a very good plan in which both the needs of the department and of the public could be addressed. We received a great deal of support from people to do this.
DAMYATI SHARMA [Bharog Baneri]
When the DFID project first came, they called many people to join in. So then the DFO, the Forest Department, suggested that the focus should be on work that keeps the forest healthy, and that allows people to earn something, so that people can benefit too, and seedlings are protected. So we thought that, years ago, we used to work with palm leaves. A few women in the village do this and make things to use in their homes, and they sell any surplus. So I suggested that this could be expanded, if the women were ready to be involved.
PUSHPENDRA RANA
What we think [is] that women can protect forest better if they are dependent on the forest. They are the first to go to the forest and meet the needs of the people for fodder, for the milk, the cow dung, and everything, the entire concept, because the household living is run by women, and that women we haven't ignored.
VOICEOVER
The Forest Department set up a workshop for the women to do palm weaving, organized training, and appointed field coordinators to assist with marketing. After a good start, some social conflicts emerged.
PINKI [Coordinator, Palm Weaving Project]
The palm group started off well, but then there was a problem with the accounts. The secretary's accounts weren't transparent. She wouldn't discuss her expenses with the group: where money was spent, how much she paid for things. The group didn't get this information, and because of this, they wanted to change their secretary.
PUSHPENDRA RANA
What happened, two or three women, they became very strong, and what they tried to do is they tried to utilize the entire group for their own purpose. And they were high caste women, so low caste women, they get separated now.
ASHA DEVI [Bharog Baneri]
At first we were fine. Then there was some problem with the money or with materials, and then the meetings became a bit difficult. Then they insulted us; they said that people from scheduled castes are like this, like that. They said many insulting things. Then we thought, "It's us that are making the items, and you are putting your names on it." We told them this, but they didn't agree, so we separated. Since then we've formed a good group and things are running well.
DAMYATI SHARMA
At first nothing happened; everyone was working together. I don't know what happened between them. A few women said, "This woman," the one who keeps accounts, the secretary, "is from a different panchayat." They didn't raise an objection at the start, but later said that, "This women is from a different panchayat, we don't accept her." The DFO said that there is no question of objecting, so then we decided to split the group. We said, "Those who want to go in that group, go; those who want to be in this group, stay." For me, there's no problem; it's up to them how they want to work. I have no objection.
VOICEOVER
The crisis forced some hard talking and some changes in the way the groups worked.
ASHA DEVI
Since then, things are running well and we are making even better things. Many women come, the previous members come, and they make the products even better. It's running even better, everyone comes.
PINKI
One important thing is that the secretary and pradhan who are chosen are completely transparent with everything and everyone, and discuss everything with the group: what's happening, what's not happening. Because of this, we made lots of changes to our record system. Every month she [the secretary] will discuss how much is being spent and on what. They'll be audited four times, a self-audit, to see how much they have made and what they have spent in three months, and after that we will have a full record of the outcome for the year. Transparency is the first rule.
PUSHPENDRA RANA
It's a social mobilization, it is a social organization. It will take time. It will not happen in one or two years that we will find that everything will be okay. We have to work to remove their differences, we have to work on social agendas, we have to work on their political issues, some of the political-economic issues we have to discuss and elaborate and to work on them, then we can definitely have results. We have to educate them also, we have to make them aware that these resources are for their common purpose, nobody can have an agenda on a particular resource which is common for them.