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Periyar Tiger Reserve: poachers turned gamekeepers

M. Govindan Kutty and T.K. Raghavan Nair

Name of forest:

Periyar Tiger Reserve


Thekkady, Kerala State

Area (hectares):

77 700

Managing entity:

Kerala Forest and Wildlife Department

Mgt. objectives:

Conservation, recreation, sustainable livelihoods



It began as just another day for the smugglers and poachers of Periyar Tiger Reserve. "On that fateful day, our group went into the interior forests of the sanctuary. We were already starting to peel off cinnamon bark from the vayana trees (Cinnamomum spp.) when suddenly a team of forestry officials appeared. Those who were on the ground were able to escape. But most of us, including myself, were up in the trees. We had to get down and before we could run, the government men had encircled us. There were eight of us who were caught and we were taken into custody," recalled Naushad Mohamed Haneefa, a former smuggler who is now a leader of an Eco-Development Committee (EDC), which helps to protect the forests.

Most of those who were involved in smuggling did so because they had no other means of earning money. "We earned our livelihood by smuggling and poaching for many years," Naushad indicated. "Generally, local merchants bought our smuggled products. If we were lucky, we might also have killed an animal, but the meat had to be sold discreetly. Of course, the money we got from these endeavours was not sufficient for a decent life. And the worst thing was that if we were caught, the merchants would not help us. Everyone in our village, including family members, considered us criminals."

Under the Kerala Forest Act, offenses committed by smugglers and poachers are punishable by imprisonment for up to five years and by a fine of up to US$105. Thus, most earnings from smuggling and poaching are spent on advocates to defend their court cases and payment of fines handed down by the courts. "We had to spend considerable sums to defend ourselves in court," Naushad remembered.

Much of the remaining money was wasted on liquor and narcotics. To get more money, they had to resort to more poaching and smuggling. Being treated as criminals they behaved like criminals. They were caught in a vicious circle of crime, pursuit and punishment, and lived largely as fugitives from the law.

The Periyar Tiger Reserve

The Periyar Tiger Reserve lies in the Western Ghats in the Idukki District of the Indian state of Kerala. The northeastern boundary of the reserve is a 90-kilometre ridge, which also forms part of the boundary between the states of Kerala and Tamil Nadu. The reserve lies along the watershed of the Periyar and Pamba rivers - two of the largest rivers in Kerala.

In 1895, a dam was constructed across the Periyar River to provide irrigation for parts of Tamil Nadu. The forest around the new reservoir, the Periyar Lake, was declared as reserve forest in 1899 and was named Periyar Lake Reserve. The sanctuary was extended to 777 km2 in 1950, and was designated as a Tiger Reserve in 1978. The core area of the reserve (about 350 km2) was declared a national park under a preliminary notification in 1982.

Tropical evergreen and moist deciduous forests dominate in the lower regions, with grasslands at higher elevations interspersed with shola forests (small patches of evergreen forest with peculiar characteristics occurring in protected pockets amidst grassland). Many small rivulets and streams that ultimately form the Periyar and Pamba river systems originate and run through these grasslands and forests.

Wildlife is plentiful: 62 species of mammals, 318 species of birds, 44 species of reptiles, 16 species of amphibians, 38 species of fishes and 119 species of butterflies have been identified formally to date.

Natural habitat for tigers

In the early years of the reserve, the forest provided habitat for a significant tiger population. More recently, however, deforestation and other human activities have encroached on the forest and the number of tigers in the reserve has dwindled. In 1973, the Government of India introduced Project Tiger as a centrally sponsored scheme to ensure a viable population of tigers in India. Periyar was declared a Tiger Reserve under Project Tiger in 1978. At that time, only five tigers were known to inhabit the forest. Project Tiger implemented a range of programmes including consolidation of boundaries, relocation of human dwellings from the interior to minimize disturbances to wildlife, fencing or digging trenches in vulnerable areas to prevent cattle from straying into the sanctuary, habitat improvement, prevention of wildfire, maintenance of swamps and waterholes, encouraging the growth of fodder species and elimination of commercial exploitation of forest products. By 2000, as a result of these efforts, there were 36 tigers living in the reserve.

Important place of worship

The reserve is famous for tigers, but it is also an important place of worship for Hindus. Two ancient Hindu temples - Mangaladevi and Sabarimala - are located within the reserve boundaries. During festival seasons, many pilgrims visit these temples for worship, especially between November and January. In recent times, new roads have improved access to the temples and created an enormous influx of visitors. In the past, pilgrims had to walk 45 kilometres through dense forests to reach the temples. Today, however, the walking distance is reduced to six kilometres and the Sabarimala Temple attracts five million visitors during the 60-day annual pilgrimage.

In the early 1950s, the area began to acquire its reputation as an important tourist destination. The major attraction was a boat cruise on the lake, from which a variety of wildlife could be viewed. At that time, very few of India's other wildlife sanctuaries offered this type of tourist attraction. Initially, the government provided only limited accommodation and tourist facilities. Today, however, the Kerala Tourism Development Corporation, an independent government agency, operates three luxury hotels and five boats.

Major threats

Since its inception, the Periyar Tiger Reserve has faced major challenges. The pilgrimage, for example, constitutes an ongoing and serious threat to the local environment. In the 1960s, throngs of people started coming to the hill shrines. Temple authorities were required to provide basic amenities to visitors and the influx prompted the construction of more roads (ergo the opening up of forests along the route to the shrine), permanent buildings to accommodate pilgrims and officials, sanitary infrastructure, water supplies, electricity and medical facilities.

As the business potential of the pilgrimage became evident, shops and hotels sprang up along the jungle routes. Trees adjacent to pilgrimage routes were felled for construction materials and fuelwood. Plastic and other non-biodegradable matter were discarded routinely in the forest, and insufficient sanitary facilities meant the forests were littered with human waste. For most of the impoverished people living near the pilgrimage routes, the increased traffic meant marginal improvement in living standards. Without money or influence, most of them had to settle for menial employment - working for the shopkeepers. Many were engaged in illicit felling of trees, construction of makeshift hotels, shops and accommodation, and collecting fuelwood.

The challenges confronting Periyar are not confined to the pilgrimage. The successful promotion of tourism has resulted in an additional influx of tourists to the sanctuary. In 2001, more than 350 000 tourists visited the reserve. The crush of visitors has meant that facilities have regularly been overloaded. Business opportunities have attracted more people to the area, which has exacerbated pollution problems. At the same time, enhanced transportation infrastructure has facilitated access for poachers, smugglers, illicit grazers and other encroachers to the reserve. Smugglers and poachers continued to seek a range of products from the forest including the vayana bark sought by Naushad's band, highly prized sandalwood, teak, rosewood and elephants' tusks. Some people - including encroachers from adjoining Tamil Nadu State - have cultivated narcotic plants (e.g. Cannabis sativa) inside the Tiger Reserve.

The extent of these challenges led to a realization during the mid-1990s, that policing alone would not bring the situation under control. A handful of enthusiastic forest officers at the reserve - from the executive level to the supervisory level, and at policy- and decision making levels - realized that people's participation in management, decision making and in the day-to-day running of the park offered the only hope for solving the vexing problems facing Periyar Tiger Reserve.

The Eco-Development Project

In 1996, the Kerala Forest and Wildlife Department launched the India Eco-Development Project (EDP) for the Periyar Tiger Reserve with financial assistance from the World Bank and the Global Environment Facility (GEF). The important components of the EDP are village ecodevelopment programmes, improved protected area management, and environmental education and awareness campaigns. A fundamental basis of the project is the preparation of microplans for income generation and conservation measures for each of the villages fringing the reserve.

Efforts are being made to minimize biotic pressures resulting from grazing, fuelwood collection, non-timber forest product collection, fishing and fire, by providing alternative income generation activities and improving efficiency in the utilization of natural resources.

"Our vision is to minimize people-park conflict in every sense - for mutual benefits," explained Dr Veeramani Arunachalam, an ecologist with the Periyar Tiger Reserve. "The mutual benefits are biodiversity conservation, protection and maintenance of Periyar Tiger Reserve, and decent livelihoods for the people so they won't have to pursue illegal activities."

In implementing the programme, Periyar Tiger Reserve staff needed to redirect the people who were dependent on the reserve into sustainable and nondestructive livelihoods. This was not simple. In the vicinity of the Tiger Reserve, there was an immense diversity of people, based on ethnicity, profession, skills and ambitions. They included tribal groups engaged in the cultivation of pepper and other crops, migrants from other regions who had come to the area to work as labourers or petty merchants, graziers, poachers, smugglers and fuelwood collectors. The major factor that they had in common was that their livelihoods were at least partially dependent - lawfully or otherwise - on the Periyar Tiger Reserve.

Eco-Development Committees

After initial surveys and consultation, it was decided that the most viable approach would be to establish a number of Eco-Development Committees (EDCs), grouping together like-minded people to form each committee. Prolonged discussions were held with various groups to help in establishing EDCs based on locality, ethnicity, professional backgrounds and habits. Tribal groups on the fringes of the Tiger Reserve formed EDCs according to their ethnicity and culture, such as the Paliyakudy EDC and the Mannan EDC. Labourers engaged by merchants and traders along the pilgrimage route to Sabarimala Temple formed a number of Swamy Ayyappan Poonkavanam Punaruddharana[21] EDCs at different localities along the footpath to the temple.

Each committee was required to contribute to the protection and management of the Tiger Reserve. In return, they were given opportunities - essentially granted tourist or resource concessions - to earn legal livelihoods. To date, 72 committees have been established, with approximately 5 540 families participating - from an overall target population of 58 000 people living within a 2-kilometre radius of the Periyar Tiger Reserve.

The EDCs can be categorized into four functional groups depending on their mode of operation:

Each EDC decides on a way of earning money, which is discussed, refined and approved by the Tiger Reserve authorities. All EDCs are required to follow general guidelines issued by the authorities, a fundamental component of which is the requirement to take an active part in protecting the reserve and conserving biodiversity.

In the preliminary phase - following the establishment of each EDC - Tiger Reserve staff conducted participatory resource assessment exercises with committee members. Microplans suitable for each EDC and its specific locality were drafted and approved. Reserve authorities and a special assistance committee helped EDC members to complete this phase.

Each EDC was eligible to receive working capital of approximately US$260 per family as a government contribution. The members of each committee were, however, also required to contribute 25 percent of the government allocation in either cash or in-kind contributions (e.g. labour or agricultural products). Each EDC had discretion as to how the government contribution was spent, provided expenditure conformed with microplan guidelines.

Some EDC members have been employed directly by the reserve authorities to provide specific conservation services. These employees are paid according to specified government rates. Approximately 10 percent of these employees' salaries are retained by the authorities and deposited in a revolving fund called the Community Development Fund (CDF). The fund is used mainly to create sustainable assets, provide loans to members and to meet unforeseen needs of the local community. It is envisaged that the CDF will be used as a means of continuing support beyond the conclusion of the India Eco-Development Project.

The decisions on the structure, formation and functioning of EDCs were crucial to the success of the initiative. Establishing EDCs on the basis of social, ethnic and occupational groups has given each EDC a strong degree of homogeneity that has helped to develop and nurture mutual cooperation and trust. Since members of any given EDC have largely similar socio-economic status, discussions and negotiations are equitable and disputes are resolved more easily. The reserve staff regularly arrange EDC awareness classes for students, government officers, people's representatives and the public, using real-life examples of dispute resolution.

Poachers become gamekeepers

In the meantime, what had happened to Naushad and his cohorts? Like most people living near the Tiger Reserve, they were aware of the new government project. "We heard about the Eco-Development Committees," said Naushad. "We discussed it among ourselves. Finally, we decided to join the gover nment's programme. But our problem was how? Someone advised us to contact the Peermade Wildlife Society."

The Peermade Wildlife Society is a non-governmental organization, based in Kerala, which works with the Periyar Reserve primarily on tiger conservation. Peermade Society officials agreed to talk with government officials, provided the smugglers and poachers were committed to halting their illegal activities. As part of a negotiated agreement, the government agreed that outstanding poaching charges against them would be dropped. "We agreed, as forming an EDC was much better than living in fear, earning little and spending everything on court cases. Our EDC enables us to lead a normal life. In addition, we offer considerable help to the authorities to protect Periyar Tiger Reserve, since we know every corner of the forests," said Koshy Joseph, a former criminal who is now an elected member of the local panchayat.[22]

The group of former smugglers and poachers who had been caught peeling vayana bark formed their own collective - the Ex-Vayana Bark Collectors' EDC. They underwent intensive training in the basics of forest protection and management. Because they knew the Periyar Tiger Reserve so well, the group helped reserve staff to protect the forest and wildlife by forming patrol squads. These activities were carried out voluntarily - as their contribution to the conservation of the forests from which they earned their new livelihoods. The new EDC developed a series of tourism packages, including trekking, rafting on the lake and night camps in the jungle, which were refined by experienced Tiger Reserve management staff. The EDC members now take small groups of tourists on wildlife-spotting excursions; this is their principal business activity.

Seventy percent of the money the group earns from guiding tourists goes to the EDC Common Fund (from which members' salaries are drawn), while 10 percent is apportioned to a subsidiary Welfare Fund (used for giving loans to EDC members). The remaining 20 percent pays for operational expenditures, including food and camping equipment, reserve entry fees and business promotion costs. Each member of the group is paid a monthly salary of approximately US$75 from the Common Fund.

"Individuals are not allowed to receive payments directly," explained an official. "Payments are received by the committee and are remitted to the Common Fund. At the end of the month, each member is paid his base salary irrespective of the quantum earned through him."

As a tourist-dependent enterprise, the Ex-Varyana Bark Collectors' EDC tries to maximize its earnings during the peak tourist season. During the offseason, members draw their monthly salary from the surplus accumulated during the peak season. Today, most EDCs have accumulated hefty cash balances in their accounts.

Developing new ideas

Each EDC is expected to earn its own income. This requires members to work in an entrepreneurial fashion to develop new ideas to make money. Ideas are submitted to reserve officials for fine-tuning. "If a particular EDC is not profitable, its members are urged to come up with new profit-making ventures," the official explained. Some of the more innovative profit-making schemes have included manufacturing notebooks, umbrella-making and bamboo raft tours. The EDCs have also established contractual agreements with two commercial tour operators. A World Bank assessment of the project estimates that, to date, contributions to the Community Development Funds of all EDCs total almost US$600 000.

Live and let live

Today, the 85 former poachers and smugglers of the Ex-Varyana Bark Collectors' EDC are proud to contribute productively to a society that once despised them. "Now, I can influence others in the panchayat and organize environmentally friendly campaigns to help clean up plastic waste or expand sanitation works, not only in the sanctuary but in the whole panchayat. My ambition is to spread a message of 'live and let live' through the protection of forests and wildlife," said Koshy Joseph.

The EDC also undertakes welfare activities. For instance, it helps to pay school expenses for a student whose father - a warden in the reserve - died while on duty. Their laudable endeavours have earned the former poachers several prestigious awards. In 2002, they received the Green Guard Award (a national recognition of the best group engaged in biodiversity conservation) from Junglees, a non-governmental organization based in Kolkata. In the same year, the Kerala Forest and Wildlife Department awarded them an EDC Best Performance Award.

Reserve authorities took the initiative to organize more than 400 people from 25 local villages, who previously worked as casual labourers for shopkeepers on the pilgrimage route, into the Swamy Ayyappan Poonkavanam Punaruddharana (SAAP) EDCs. These EDCs are allowed to open shops during the festival season (but must dismantle them after the festival) under the strict supervision of reserve authorities. Materials used in construction of the shops are brought from outside the forest. Reserve staff oversee waste disposal and ensure quality and reasonable prices for food sold. Use of plastic packaging is not allowed, instead reserve staff supply alternative packing materials. A liquid petroleum gas outlet has been established to supply villagers with an alternative fuel source, thereby removing demand for fuelwood from nearby forests.

Tremendous results

The results of the Eco-Development Project have been tremendous. Not only have negative impacts been reduced considerably, but EDCs have been able to earn good incomes from new activities. Dumping of rubbish and littering, particularly of plastic waste, has been reduced substantially. "The effects are clearly noticeable in the excrement of wildlife, especially large herbivores," Veeramani observed.

Within a short time span, the forest has regenerated dramatically. "Every year, we save more than two million seedlings and saplings from destruction," noted Pramod Krishnan, Deputy Director of Periyar Tiger Reserve. In 1999, the Indian Government honoured the SAPP EDCs with the prestigious Indira Priyadarshini Vrikshamitra Award, one of the country's highest awards for environmental conservation.

Hilltribe families, who have been relocated by the government to the fringes surrounding Periyar Tiger Reserve, also have some success stories to tell. Members of this EDC are mostly illiterate. But after attending special coaching classes offered by reserve staff they can now speak English, according to Manikantan Churuli, who belongs to the Paliya tribe.

Haritha Sena (green army) women with a tracker-cum-guide EDC member on a field patrol (courtesy M. Govindan Kutty).

Indigenous tribal groups who were engaged in fishing and the collection of honey and fuelwood were organized to form an EDC called Tribal Trackers-cum-Guides. Initially, the EDC had 12 members, but this has expanded to 19, of whom 8 (including Manikantan) are employed directly by tour operators. They take small groups of tourists on three-hour sightseeing trips, either on foot or by riding a raft. Tour operators have an agreement with the EDC to pay guides a daily retainer. Other members of the Tribal Trackers EDC work as freelancers and take groups on their own into the sanctuary. Each guide receives US$70 per month from the EDC. As a sideline, the EDC rents out leech-proof socks to tourists and distributes colour brochures on Periyar Tiger Reserve. They have a telephone connection in their office and an extension in a reserve sub office.

"The level of contribution to an EDC's Common Fund is decided by members themselves, and may vary slightly according to the capacity of the EDC to earn money," explained an official. "Since each functions as a totally independent unit, there should be no chance of disputes or dissatisfaction." Those who lag behind are, as stated earlier, free to initiate new fund-generating activities at any time.

Meanwhile, what will happen to the various EDCs when the World Bank funding expires in 2004? "We are not worried," assured Pramod Krishnan. "The EDCs are becoming self-sufficient. They can look after themselves."

About the authors

M. Govindan Kutty and T.K. Raghavan Nair are retirees from the Indian Forest Service. Both have worked as Head of the Department of Forests in Kerala, India (as Principal Chief Conservators of Forests) in 1998 and 1997, respectively. They have postgraduate degrees in forestry from the Indian Forest College, Dehra Dun. Currently, they work as freelance consultants on forestry, wildlife and environmental issues, primarily with the Government of Kerala.

Chaubas-Bhumlu community sawmill: empowering local people

Hukum B. Singh

Name of forest:

Chapani, Racchma, Dharapani and Fagar Khola Community Forests


Kabhre Palanchok District, Bagmati Zone

Area (hectares):


Managing entity:

Chapani, Rachhama, Dharapani and Fagar Khola FUGs

Mgt. objectives:

Sustainable timber production, poverty alleviation



The Chaubas-Bhumlu community sawmill is the first sawmill in Nepal to be run directly by Forest User Groups (FUGs). The sawmill is managed by four community groups - the Chapani, Rachhama, Dharapani and Fagar Khola FUGs - and processes timber sourced almost exclusively from community forests.

"As a system that integrates both forest management and wood processing, the operation provides an excellent example of a viable community-based enterprise. While the main focus of the four Forest User Groups is on the commercial aspects of pine timber processing, they are also very serious about managing their forest plantations for a sustainable yield, especially because these are the main sources of timber for the sawmill," explained Guman Dhoj Kunwar, the former chairperson of the sawmill management committee.

The villages of Chaubas and Bhumlu are located in Kabhre Palanchok District, about 75 kilometres north east of Kathmandu. These villages are a 4-hour walk, uphill from the Arniko Highway at Dolalghat, climbing some 800 metres from the Sun Kosi River to an altitude of 1 950 metres. In recent times, an 18-kilometre gravel road was constructed to link Chaubas with Dolalghat.

Prior to the construction of the "Chinese Road" to Kodari, which extended past Dolalghat in 1970, Chaubas and Bhumlu lay directly on the trekking path to Mt. Everest. At that time, trekkers passed through a region of overgrazed barren hills that were a stark testament to deforestation. Severe shortages of wood and landscape degradation motivated the government to launch the Kathmandu Valley Reafforestation Project in 1962. Today, thick pine forests cover the once barren slopes.

Field workers receive extensive training in sustainable low-impact timber harvesting practices (courtesy NACRMLP).

The history of the Chaubas-Bhumlu community sawmill dates from 1978, when the Government of Nepal adopted a strategy aimed at promoting the participation of local people in the regeneration, protection and management of forests.

"The District Forest Office was responsible for the protection and management of the forests," said Mr Prakash Pyakurel, a District Forest Officer. "Until 1978, we focused more on enforcing the law, rather than promoting the participation of local people in forest management."

New forest strategy

It took a long time for Forestry Department personnel to adjust to this radical change in the government's forestry strategy.

"The new strategy identified forestry as one of the principal sources and supports of livelihoods for impoverished rural communities," explained Pyakurel. "To effectively implement this new policy we had to make major adjustments to our modes of operation, learn how to facilitate people's involvement in forest management and how to ensure they assumed a role as key stakeholders in management and protection."

The new community forestry strategy initially emphasized people's participation only in the reforestation of degraded lands. Since the late 1980s, however, the concept has broadened to embrace all aspects of forest management and rural development.

An important strand of the new policy was the establishment of FUGs to manage local forests. In essence, communities banded together to form FUGs, to which the government transferred control and management responsibilities for local forests. The FUGs were required to protect and manage the forest according to Forest Operational Plans, which also granted rights to use forest products as a means of livelihood. FUGs were allowed to sell forest products, raise funds and use the income generated for rural development and forest regeneration.

A second important development for the villagers of Chaubas and Bhumlu also commenced in 1978. The Department of Forests and local communities were brought together under the auspices of the Nepal-Australia Community Resource Management Project, which in 2002 became known as the Nepal-Australia Community Resource Management and Livelihoods Project (NACRMLP), to undertake a plantation afforestation programme in the hills of Kabhre Palanchok and surrounding districts. The principal species planted was Pinus patula, as it can tolerate drought and moisture stress.

In the mid-1980s the Chaubas and Bhumlu communities began forming four local FUGs, which in total comprised around 350 households. The process culminated in 1988 with the transfer of management responsibilities for the plantations. The plantation forest area currently managed by the FUGs totals 223 hectares. The FUGs are focusing on a broad range of forest management objectives, including protection, utilization and development. In the beginning, each of the FUGs worked with field staff from the Department of Forests to develop Forest Operational Plans that outline management prescriptions for the forests. Harvesting plans are regularly developed based on the prescriptions of the operational plans.

"We were successful in planting seedlings and nurturing them, to achieve the gradual establishment of large pine forests," recalled Mr Sher Thapa, a former FUG chairperson and, until recently, a member of the sawmill management committee. "As more trees grew, the forests became overstocked - thereby affecting the quality of the timber. With advice from the District Forest Office and from NACRMLP staff, we decided to look at options for better utilizing our forest resources, to maximize our income and to generate employment for the community."

Community sawmill

The FUGs commissioned a feasibility study to examine options for community-based projects that would meet their requirements and aspirations. The study identified the establishment of a sawmill as a viable community enterprise. After extensive discussion and negotiations, Chaubas-Bhumlu community sawmill was built in 1996, with financial support from the Australian Agency for International Development (AusAID).

The sawmill operates a 36-inch band-saw and has an estimated maximum practical capacity to process 1 060 cubic metres of roundwood per annum. However, the mill generally operates for only eight months per year and generally at below capacity. Currently, it is estimated to process approximately 425 cubic metres of roundwood each year, producing around 170 cubic metres of sawn timber. The sawmill owners are discussing the potential to purchase additional logs from another local FUG to enable greater capacity utilization at the mill.

"Even before the establishment of the sawmill, NACRMLP staff and divisional forest rangers conducted a number of meetings with FUG members to solicit ideas and get feedback on plans and proposals," indicated Gopi Pd. Poudyal, a forest specialist working for NACRMLP. These meetings resulted in the signing of detailed agreements between the government and the four FUGs relating to funding and purchase of the mill. The FUG members, with the help of the NACRMLP, worked out the initial establishment cost of the sawmill, and a plan for repayment of loans for equipment.

"To purchase the equipment, the NACRMLP loaned US$6 230 to the FUGs, which was to be repaid within three years of the sawmill being run at its full capacity," reported Poudyal. To date, almost two-thirds of the loan has been repaid.

The NACRMLP also provided capacity-building assistance for sawmill staff and FUG members via training to the factory manager, technicians and other stakeholders. The project also supplied information on, and facilitated linkages to, national and international timber markets.

To oversee the operations of the sawmill enterprise, the four FUGs established a management committee made up of representatives from each of the four groups. The sawmill management committee reports jointly to the Forest User Group Executive Committees which, in turn, each receive their mandate from their respective user group assembly for any major decision. The user groups receive all revenues from sawmill operations and pay the individual FUG members who work as labourers.

"The user groups are responsible for the management of the sawmill, while the forest guards and rangers of the Chaubas Range Post monitor the impacts of the sawmill on surrounding forests. We also provide whatever technical advice may be needed," said Hari Raj Kharel, a forest guard.

Until recently, the local District Forest Office was the only government institution that worked to monitor the activities of the sawmill and the FUGs. However, when the FUGs commenced the sale of timber in Kathmandu, they had to transport the timber through various police, army and forest department checkpoints. "It rapidly became apparent that the District Forest Office needed to intervene on behalf of the FUGs to enable them to get their timber to market with less difficulties. We wrote letters to the relevant offices and agencies to facilitate transportation of timber from the sawmill to Kathmandu," said Mr Pyakurel.

Marketing schemes

Since 1996, when it commenced operations, the Chaubas-Bhumlu Community Sawmill has purchased about 1 100 cubic metres of sawlogs from its FUG owners, paying a total purchase value of about US$26 000 to the FUGs.

FUG members utilize approximately 5 percent of the sawmill's output, while a further 15 percent of output is sold to the local market in Dolalghat, where sawntimber has recently sold for approximately US$100 per cubic metre. The remaining 80 percent of production is transported for sale in Kathmandu. The sawmill supplies sawntimber to the local community at a discounted rate (the mill charges a levy of approximately US$9 per cubic metre for sawing logs for use by FUG members).

The income from the sawmill is shared among the four FUGs, proportionate to the volume of logs supplied by each group. The sawmill agreement requires that the sawmill retains 20 percent of the income for maintenance requirements and other expenditures, and 80 percent is allocated to the FUGs. Each FUG uses the money initially for salary payments to members, with residual profits used for community development based on local needs. For example, the Chapani, Dharapani and Rachhama FUGs have invested substantial amounts of money in the construction of new school buildings and a playground at the school. They also pay the salary of the schoolteacher.

The four FUGs also undertake non-cash community activities including the provision of labour for local development activities. Such activities have included constructing school buildings, electricity-generating facilities, new roads, trails, drinking water systems and carrying out soil erosion work, nursery and plantation activities.

The prices charged for the various products extracted from the forest vary among the FUGs, but prices are invariably lower for sales to FUG members compared with non-members. For example, one FUG sells sawlogs to its members for approximately US$19 per cubic metre compared with the local market price of US$30 per cubic metre. Another FUG sells poles for US$5 to non-members, but only US$0.33 per pole to members. The price of fuelwood sold by FUGs varies from a minimum of US$0.03 per 40-kilogram load for members to a maximum price of US$0.93 per load at a local bazaar.

Employment opportunities

The establishment of the sawmill has had a major positive impact on local employment. Villagers are hired for a wide range of activities that support harvesting and processing including pre-harvest tree marking, logging, transporting logs, milling, timber stacking and loading.

"My four sons and I have been working in harvesting and loading logs and sawntimber since the sawmill's establishment," explained Yadav Pd. Pandey, an experienced forestry labourer on Chaubas Ridge. "This year, we earned 40 000 rupees[23] from harvesting and loading trees."

Since 1996, the four FUGs have paid wages and salaries totalling more than US$28 000. The sawmill provides employment to nearly 30 people. In cases where local people do not have the skills needed, people from other areas have been employed. For example, the present sawmill manager is a university-trained forester. Similarly, lower-caste men from an adjoining area are employed to physically carry logs across the Sun Kosi River at Dolalghat, where the bridge is no longer passable by vehicles.


The four FUGs take full responsibility for managing the forests including the development of harvesting plans. These harvesting plans are developed in accord with prescribed thinning regimes and planned rotations. "A thinning regime for harvesting is applied based on a rotation age of 40 years for Pinus patula," indicated Gopi Poudyel. "No harvesting is carried out on steep slopes, within 5-metre riparian strips on either side of streams, or within 10-metre buffer zones around water sources."

Future harvesting is to be carried out with great care. The forest is demarcated into specific compartments based on an approved operational plan. The trees in a specified compartment are measured and a sustainable quantity is marked for harvest during a pre-harvest inventory implemented by trained FUG members with the support of the range forester and forest guards. FUG members are hired as labourers to cut the marked trees. The harvested trees are measured and cut into logs, according to sawmill requirements, before being transported to the mill.

Harvesting during the rainy season is strictly prohibited. Also, harvesting of specified rare species is not permitted. Manual harvesting is generally carried out using 36-inch bow saws. A transport sulky - built by FUG members - is used for transporting sawlogs from the forest to the roadside. This is done to eliminate damage from skidding logs along the ground, as well as for ease of transport. Using the sulky, only two people are required to haul even large logs.

Various representations

The FUGs are comprised of ethnic groups including Tamang, Pahari and Chhetri. Each FUG has representatives of the main ethnic groups in its community on its executive committee. Representation is specifically designed to promote social equity by ensuring avenues to voice concerns and for direct input into decision making.

Women are also represented on the FUG executive committees as well as on the sawmill management committee. There are 8 female members among the 21 members of the sawmill management committee and half the members of all FUG executive committees are women. Women's representation in decision making has increased over the past decade. In recent years, more women have attended and spoken at the FUG general assembly meeting, where in earlier years their attendance was negligible.

Women are also employed by the FUGs.

"I worked for 55 days this year," said Shova Bal, a female FUG member. "There were seven other women employed alongside me doing harvesting. I felled trees and carried logs. In fact, the latter job was supposed to be done by men only," she laughed. "We decided to get involved in such work just recently."

The 21 members of the sawmill management committee are made up of 4 members selected from each of the FUGs, the chairpersons of each of the 4 FUGs (non-voting members), and the sawmill manager is the non-voting Executive Secretary of the committee. Two female members from each of the four FUGs are members of the management committee. Committee decisions require a quorum of at least 50 percent of the members, including at least 2 members from each FUG.

Nonetheless, there have been problems in mobilizing members of the sawmill management committee.

"All members of the sawmill management committee now receive 50 rupees per meeting as an allowance for attending meetings and to partially cover the cost of their time," noted Sabita Gautam, a woman representing Dharapani FUG on the sawmill management committee.

The sawmill manager supports the sawmill management committee in ensuring the confidence and participation of the general FUG membership.

"To ensure broad participation, I visit FUG members in each hamlet to discuss the problems faced by the members and how these problems can be solved," said the sawmill manager.

Leaders and leadership

In last year's FUG Assemblies all four FUGs made consensus decisions to change their leadership (representation on the FUG executive committees).

"The sawmill management committee also changed its membership and to support this transformation, I volunteered to assist the new committee as an adviser," explained Mr Sher Thapa.

The changes in leadership provided unique opportunities for members of the FUGs to become new leaders. Normally, the hierarchical structure of Nepalese society - through feudal, autocratic and caste structures - is maintained and reinforced in local organizations. Generally, feudal and autocratic leaders are obeyed without question and differences in opinion are often equated with defiance of the status quo. However, in the four FUGs there are clear indications that the members are becoming more attuned to democratic decision making, by involving themselves in assemblies and meetings and voicing their opinions. There is still some distance to go in overcoming traditional reticence, however, and many subordinate caste members are more comfortable expressing opinions at informal gatherings rather than formally to the leaders. Even though many people may not aspire to assume leadership positions immediately, they have shown interest in exploring alternatives such as working as aides to executive committee members in meetings and in visits to the District Forest Office.


The types of community-based enterprises represented by Chaubas-Bhumlu Sawmill require both backward (sustainable supply of raw materials) and forward (especially marketing) linkages to be successful. A focus on existing products and markets can be successful, provided adequate attention is paid to research and planning.

In recent years, Nepal has embarked upon an ambitious decentralization programme and the government has expressed its willingness to provide greater responsibilities and opportunities to communities in managing forests and other natural resources. The Chaubas-Bhumlu sawmill serves as a useful pilot model that could be extended to other communities in Nepal that have developed similar forest management systems. With ongoing government recognition and continuing support from non-governmental organizations, research organizations and donors, community forest management has the potential to allow Nepal's forest-dependent peoples to make an invaluable contribution to the country's forestry sector.


AusAID. 1996. Project Design Document. Nepal Australia Community Resource Management Project.

Gilmour, D.A. & Fisher, R.J. 1991. Villagers, forests and foresters: The philosophy, process and practice of community forestry in Nepal.

National Planning Commission. 1997. Ninth Five Year Plan.

Ministry of Forests and Soil Conservation. 2001. Joint technical review of community forestry. Report of the Joint Technical Review Committee.

Malla, Y.B.; Jackson, W.J. & Ingles, A.W. 1998. Community forestry for rural development. A manual for training field workers. Part 1: Trainers' handbook.

About the author

Hukum B. Singh spent 20 years working with the Nepal-Australia Community Forestry Project. He has held various senior management positions in the project relating to project coordination and training and extension. He has also been involved in the preparation of training and extension materials, including videotapes, field guides and training source books. He is one of the founding members of the Nepal Participatory Action Network (NEPAN) and a founding adviser of the Federation of Forest Users in Nepal (FECOFUN) and of the Himalayan Women's Grassroots Organisations (HIMAWANTI), Nepal.

Chaubas-Bhumlu community sawmill (courtesy NACRMLP).

Shree Binayak Pimidanda Community Forest: more than a paper tiger

Hukum B. Singh

Name of forest:

Binayak Pimidanda Community Forest


Bajhang District, Seti Zone

Area (hectares):


Managing entity:

Shree Binayak Pimidanda Forest User Group

Mgt. objectives:

Non-timber forest products, poverty alleviation



Few would imagine that the path to good forest management could be paved with small sheets of plain hand-made paper. But this is exactly the case for a vibrant community forest in the far reaches of western Nepal. "The Shree Binayak Pimidanda Community Forest in Bajhang is unquestionably one of the best managed forests in the country," commented Rama Kanta Yadav, a ranger with the District Forest Office. "It has become an excellent example of how a forest should be managed, largely as a result of the establishment of a paper factory. The members of the local Forest User Groups are very serious about sustainable forest management, as well as managing the commercial assets of the forest. With minimal support from outsiders, the community has dispelled the common belief that industries in the high mountains cannot operate profitably."

It is unlikely that first-time visitors to the factory premises of Malika Handmade Paper Industry, which the villagers refer to simply as "the Company," could imagine that a viable industry could be established in such a remote area. Nor could they expect that such an enterprise could substantially raise the standard of living for the inhabitants of the isolated village. But such is reality. Even more impressive is the fact that the villagers have established the paper industry themselves.

The Company is located in Kailash Village, high in the mountains of the Far Western Development Region of Nepal. The surrounding forest of Shree Binayak Pimidanda, from which the Company draws its raw materials, covers an area of 912 hectares.

Shree Binayak Pimidanda Forest has more than a dozen different tree species. Non-timber woody species include the commercially important lokta (Daphne spp.). The mountain forest, which extends to an elevation of 3 660 metres, also provides habitat for various wildlife including the endangered musk deer and birds such as pheasants.

Kailash Village is located about 20 kilometres southwest of Chainpur, the principal town in Bajhang District. Forests surround the village on all sides. The major sources of income for the community include farming, animal husbandry, collecting non-timber forest products and seasonal manual labour.

"Although it can be reached from Chainpur in only three hours of walking, Kailash Village is one of the least developed communities in the district," noted Ms Ram Kumari Singh, a Kailash resident and an official of the Federation of Community Forest Users in Nepal (FECOFUN).

Deforestation in the community forest remains an important challenge, with the principal threats being illegal timber felling, shifting cultivation and encroachment.

"Shifting cultivation and open grazing are major problems in the forest and these are still creating conflicts and problems among forest users," said Govinda Kami, a Dalit caste representative of the Forest User Group Committee and a staff-member of the Social Development Centre - an NGO partner in the Asia Network for Sustainable Agriculture and Bio-resources (ANSAB).

Community forestry

In 1978, His Majesty's Government of Nepal adopted a new strategy aimed at promoting the participation of local people in the regeneration, protection and management of forests. This new "community forestry" strategy initially emphasized people's involvement in reforesting degraded lands. By the late 1980s, however, community forestry had embraced broader participatory forest management approaches and rural development issues. Nepal's forest policy envisaged handing over control of forests to groups of local residents with recognized rights to use the forests. Village people who agreed to use and manage community forests to support their farms and households were organized into Forest User Groups (FUGs).

Unsurprisingly, forest policies and laws formulated in distant Kathmandu need time to take effect in remote areas.

"The people of Bajhang District took interest in the idea of Forestry User Groups only after the World Bank supported a community forestry project in the area," commented Arun Poudyal, a Forestry Officer with the Ministry of Forests and Soil Conservation.

In 1994, the rights to Shree Binayak Pimidanda National Forest were transferred to a local FUG, to be managed as a community forest under an approved operational plan and FUG constitution. At the same time, the government requested that ANSAB conduct a feasibility study to determine prospects for viable income generation. The study was supported financially by the Ford Foundation and conducted in collaboration with staff from the District Forest Office of Bajhang.

"The area is very remote and poor in terms of infrastructure development and the economic conditions for the people living there," explained Bhishma Subedi, Executive Director of ANSAB. "However, it is very rich in natural resources. Non-timber forest products are important resources in the district and can play crucial roles in economic development. Bajhang has several important non-timber forest products - in fact, 11 different species - but very few enterprises utilize these at the local level to generate income for the poorest people of the district."

"The area around Kailash Village is endowed with abundant lokta resources," Bhishma elaborated. "This is a preferred raw material for hand-made paper.

Paper-making vat and drying hand-made paper, Bajhang (courtesy ANSAB).

"If the forest is properly managed, it can supply more than 20 000 kilograms of dry lokta bark per year on a regular and sustainable basis," added Sushil Gyawali, Assistant Project Monitoring Officer at the ANSAB office in Kathmandu.

After a thorough study - with the full participation of the local people - it was decided that prospects were sufficiently promising to embark on the establishment of a paper-making enterprise. ANSAB, with funding support from the Ford Foundation, has played an important role in the establishment of the paper factory, initially lending technical, financial and administrative support.

"Prior to the establishment of the community forest, local people used to cut lokta randomly. The raw material was sold to businessmen and contractors from elsewhere," recalled Surat

B. Singh, chairperson of the Management Committee of Malika Handmade Paper Industry. "Without proper management, the lokta resource was dwindling fast. Many businessmen were making profits, but the locals were still poor."

Malika Handmade Paper Industry factory in Kailash Village(courtesy ANSAB).

Today, the Malika Handmade Paper Industry in Kailash Village is one of the best-managed community enterprises in the country. A report by Dyuthan Choudhari, of the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development stated that: "The model is designed around forestry resources based on the FUG's common property, which provides sustainable income to local communities who have full rights over the resource."

Daily activities

The forest is managed by the Shree Binayak Pimidanda Forest User Group, which includes members from six hamlets. There are 242 households in the area, with a total population of 1 368 people. The FUG has a 15-member executive committee comprising 12 men and 3 women.

All the residents of Kailash Village were involved extensively in the FUG from its inception, with the community being fully engaged in formulating its constitution and forest operational plan. While the elected executive committee manages the day-to-day activities of the forest, the full involvement of all FUG members is crucial.

The FUG is linked intricately with the management of Malika Handmade Paper Industry, which was established in 1998. Bijaya Sumar Singh, who had to undergo a rigorous recruitment process before being hired as the company's current manager, explained: "I have to prepare progress reports and detailed bank statements, account balances, work plans and budgets to present to each monthly meeting of the Forest User Group Executive Committee. The manager, one technician, four workers and one guard run the company on a daily basis. During times of urgency, I can make decisions - even outside my normal authority - by getting verbal approval from the committee chairperson. But, I still have to get subsequent endorsement from the monthly meeting of the FUG executive committee and normally all decisions are reviewed by the committee."

A factory management committee organizes regular meetings every three months. "This committee provides us with reports that cover the detailed financial status and factory management strategies," reported Chandi Amgai of ANSAB. Chandi's main role is to facilitate support for community forestry in Bajhang and he spends most of his time planning and supporting his partner organizations.

FUG members are free to visit the factory at any time. If members observe anything needing correction, or have suggestions for improvements, they are encouraged to send comments or recommendations in writing to the manager or to report to him verbally. "I am responsible for providing answers. If there are sensitive comments, I have to raise them with the factory management committee for further action," Bijaya observed.

"If we are not happy with any action the factory management committee has taken, we can ask the committee for clarification," added Govinda, a Dalit FUG member.

When this happens, Bijaya requests the chairperson of the factory management committee to organize a meeting - within seven days - to respond with written clarification to the Forest User Group Executive Committee. Once the clarification is issued, an urgent meeting is called. If the concerned parties are still not satisfied, they can "take action against the factory management committee." If such a conflict develops, a full assembly of the FUG is called upon to decide the case.

Forest management

Forest Ranger Rama Kanta Yadav is very positive about how the FUG is managing the forest. "Their methods have been extremely effective in providing a continuous supply of raw materials for paper-making as well as conserving lokta in its natural habitat," he said. Emphasis is also given to the sustainable management of high-value species such as medicinal plants.

"We have our own nursery for raising seedlings of preferred species such as lokta," Ganga B. Singh, the secretary of the factory management committee, explained. "We develop forest management and operational plans and harvesting norms, which are mandatory for harvesting of lokta. Accordingly, harvesting is restricted to stems that are at least 3 centimetres in diameter at a height of 10 feet above the ground."

The FUG members presently collect about 2 000 kilograms of lokta bark from the forest each year and sell it to the factory. The prices received for lokta bark are based on the quality. The premium quality bark - mature and high quality - earns approximately US$0.32/kilogram for the collector.

"The FUG has developed a systematic harvesting regime for lokta by dividing the forest into blocks and harvesting each block on a seven-year rotation," Ganga observed. "This permits the lokta shrubs in the harvested blocks to grow to maturity before the next harvest."

"By adopting this harvesting cycle and following the harvesting norms we are assured a sustainable supply of lokta and sound conservation is ensured. Integrated thinning, pruning and selective felling are carried out with technical assistance from the District Forest Office and ANSAB," Sushil said.

People who violate the harvesting norms are warned on their first offence, but fined if they persist. Fines escalate as the number of violations by an offender increases, so that the fine for a third offence is approximately US$20.

Major decisions

The FUG assembly, which convenes every six months, does all of the planning and makes all the major decisions related to forest and enterprise management. "All FUG members (one representative from each household) from the six hamlets attend the FUG assembly," noted Ram Kumari Singh, adding that most decisions are made by consensus. Actual voting is only exercised if consensus cannot be reached and for purposes of electing a new executive committee.

During the FUG assembly, major decisions are made in a forum. "If a decision made by the FUG assembly is not consistent with the approved operational plan and constitution, then the committee has to seek approval from the District Forest Officer. But if the decisions are within the approved operational plan and constitution, there is no need to go to the District Forest Office," Govinda explained.

Marketing strategies

The company does not sell its products randomly. "The paper we produce is sold mainly to Himalayan Biotrade, a national non-profit marketing organization based in Kathmandu. Himalayan Biotrade buys lokta at favourable prices," said Bijaya Kumar Singh, the current manager of the company.

"In the initial years after the factory was established," recalled Chandi of ANSAB, "we entered into a one-year agreement with the Bhaktapur Craft Printer Company. However, the FUG believed it was receiving very low prices for the paper produced by the factory. FUG members suspected that Bhaktapur was earning a disproportionate share of the profits. To increase their share of the profits, Malika Handmade Paper Industry and other community-based enterprises joined together to establish Himalayan Biotrade as an alternative marketing enterprise. ANSAB provided facilitation support to help get Himalayan Biotrade established."

There is a huge market for hand-made paper in western countries. To add value, traditional decorative printings are added to hand-made paper before it is exported. Official statistics indicate that hand-made paper, valued at more than US$1 million, was exported from Nepal in 1998. The main importing countries included France, Germany, the United Kingdom, the United States of America, Japan, Korea, Belgium, Denmark and Switzerland.

The District Forest Office closely monitored the Shree Binayak Pimidanda Community Forest and the paper company during the initial phases. Today, however, the main role for the District Forest Office is to provide technical advice and to monitor the transportation of the raw materials and products.

"These are now the key tasks because the FUGs have become the overall managers of the forest and are able to do their jobs properly," indicated Rama Kanta Yadav, the Forest Ranger.

To transport forest products to market, there is a need to pass through various administrative and security checkpoints before reaching Kathmandu or Nepalganja, the major markets of Nepal. At the request of the FUG Committee, the District Forest Office grants permits for transportation of legitimately harvested and processed forest products outside the district.

"ANSAB now operates only as a facilitator in supporting community forestry in Bajhang," noted Chandi. "I spend most of my time in the field, planning and supporting our partner organizations - the District Forest Office and the Social Development Centre - to develop their capacities to support enterprise staff, FUG members and other stakeholders through the provision of training and field-level support."

ANSAB also provides information and helps develop linkages with national and international markets. "We accomplish these objectives by providing relevant publications and funding study tours as needed," observed Sushil, a staff member at the Social Development Centre.

Employment opportunities

Women have found employment in the paper company, as well as men.

"In the beginning, some men did not like the idea of women working outside the house," recalled Ms Ram Kumari Singh. "Initially, traditional attitudes towards women prevailed. But this pioneering User Group is now encouraging women to work in the industry."

"After the Company opened, several of us were able to get jobs in the factory, while other women worked to collect supplies of lokta from the forest. The company provides an important source of livelihood for us," said Santi Devi Singh, a FUG member and one of the many female workers at Malika Handmade Paper Industry.

Janak Singh, a male co-worker at the factory, offered another perspective: "I've been working here since the factory opened. Like many others, I used to go to India for work in order to feed my family. But now, I'm working in my own village. I can save money and also look after my household affairs. I also have money that I can lend to help others."

Several young people also earn money by collecting and selling lokta to the factory. Bikram Khadka, a grade 7 student, explained: "I have a grandmother, one sister and one brother in India. I lost my parents when I was still very young. My brother used to pay to send me to school, but now I am earning money myself by selling lokta." Bikram is able to collect 50 kilograms of lokta from about 10 days of work for which he is paid approximately US$16. He uses this money to pay for his tuition, and for buying rice, clothes and other needs.

Share distribution

Local people have also benefited from the distribution of shares linked to the management of the forest and the factory. Each share is valued at US$1.33. A total of 5 000 shares were allocated to the members of the FUG and 5 000 shares were awarded to ANSAB. The shares allocated to the FUG were divided among members according to their contributions in the establishment of the factory - in terms of labour, the value of the land on which it is built and the timber provided for its construction. Recently, some FUG members purchased 600 of the shares held by ANSAB, and it is planned that eventually FUG members will buy the entire ANSAB holding. At the same time ANSAB's role in the enterprise is becoming less "hands on" and increasingly based around the facilitation of outcomes.

In the meantime, the shares yield an annual dividend (in 2003 the dividend was NRs10[24] per share).


Monitoring of FUG activities and of the paper-making enterprise is conducted at three levels:


"The Malika Handmade Paper Industry is one of the first people-oriented forest enterprises in Nepal that is dependent on raw material from a locally managed forest - the Shree Binayak Pimidanda Community Forest. The Kailash Village community manages the paper factory and the forest in a highly sustainable manner, for the benefit of its inhabitants. Notably, this enterprise is the first instance in Nepal, in which local people have been allowed to harvest lokta in state forests, and where management responsibilities have also been entirely and effectively devolved to the local community," beamed Executive Director Bhishma with pride. "The people of Kailash are confident that with minimal support from outsiders, they can now sustain their industry and their livelihoods by sustainably managing the forest," he concluded.


Achary, R.P. 2000. Business plan of Malika Handmade Paper Making Pvt. Ltd. Himalayan Bio-resources: 4 May 2000.

ANSAB SNV/N. 2002. An assessment of community-based forest enterprise in Nepal: case studies, lessons and implications.

Gilmour, D.A. & Fisher, R.J. 1991. Villagers, forests and forester: The philosophy, process and practice of community foresty in Nepal.

Ministry of Forests & Soil Conservation. 2001. Joint technical review of community forestry. Report of the Joint Technical Review committee.

About the author

Hukum B. Singh has spent 20 years working with the Nepal-Australia Community Forestry Project. He has held various senior management positions in the project relating to project coordination, training and extension. He has also been involved in the preparation of training and extension materials, including videotapes, field guides and training source books. He is one of the founding members of the Nepal Participatory Action Network (NEPAN) and a founding adviser of the Federation of Forest Users in Nepal (FECOFUN) and of the Himalayan Women's Grassroots Organisations (HIMAWANTI), Nepal.

Drying lokta, Bajhang (courtesy ANSAB).

Beyond Joint Forest Management: Dugli-Jawarra people's protected area

Biswa Ranjan Phukan

Name of forest:

Dugli - Jawarra Sal Forests


Chhattisgarh State

Area (hectares):

27 457

Managing entity:

State government of Chhattisgarh and local communities (JFM)

Mgt. objectives:

Multiple use, sustainable livelihoods



How can impoverished people's attitudes toward conservation be changed, so that instead of perceiving conservation as a threat to their livelihoods, it becomes an integral part of their daily lives? This was the challenge confronting the Indian state of Chhattisgarh, where constant overcutting by local people seeking building materials, fuelwood and other forest products, had heavily degraded once rich forests.

Dugli-Jawarra sal forests, located about 80 kilometres from Raipur, the state capital of Chhattisgarh, were a typical example of the problem. The rich sal (Shorea robusta) forests, covering about 27 457 hectares, had been severely degraded by excessive exploitation by poor people eking out subsistence livelihoods in the vicinity of the forests. Dugli-Juwarra provides a compelling example of how community-based forest management, that empowers people to actively manage their local forest resources, can establish stable symbiotic systems that enable both forests and communities to thrive.


Tropical moist and dry deciduous forests occupy 44 percent (135 224 km2) of the area of Chhattisgarh. Sal and teak (Tectona grandis) are the most commercially important tree species growing in these forests. Chhattisgarh is predominately populated by tribal groups and most of these - in common with their landless non-tribal counterparts - are poor and depend on the state-owned forest resources for their livelihoods.

In 1991, the state government (at that time the Madhya Pradesh state government) launched the Joint Forest Management (JFM) programme to devolve responsibilities for protection and management of government forests to the residents of adjoining villages. Local committees were created and allocated rights to utilize wood and non-timber forest products deriving from the forest areas they were protecting. Currently, 6 881 JFM committees manage approximately 48 percent of the state's total forest area.

In 2001, the Chhattisgarh Government moved one step further than conventional JFM, introducing People's Protected Areas (PPAs), a concept based on the philosophy of achieving sustainable livelihoods through biodiversity conservation. The PPA approach goes beyond a narrow forest management perspective to give greater emphasis to holistic ecosystem management under the facilitation of the state forest department. The state identified 32 biodiversity-rich areas, extending over 500 000 hectares and covering 300 villages, to participate in the initial phase of the PPA programme. The Dugli-Jawarra sal forests were among the areas selected for priority attention. Its boundaries encompass 11 villages that are mainly populated by tribal groups, particularly the Kumars, Gonds and Halbas. The predominant forest types are moist peninsular low-level sal, dry peninsular sal and Terminalia tomentosa forest.

The main thrust of the Dugli-Jawarra People's Protected Area saw villagers and the forest department working together to adopt management strategies based on local community participation and empowerment, including:

The successful implementation of a concerted programme of initiatives has resulted in recognition of the Dugli-Jawarra sal forests as a "proactive people-friendly" example of forest management. Dugli-Jawarra is one of eight project sites of the Indian Institute of Forest Management and the International Tropical Timber Organization project "Operational Strategy for Sustainable Forestry Development with Community Participation," which is developing criteria and indicators for sustainable forest management. Mr. P.C. Kotwal, the project coordinator remarked, "I have observed positive changes among people's attitudes towards sharing responsibility for forest management. Improved natural regeneration can be seen in many forest stands, while major progress has also been made in controlling forest fires, and reducing illegal activities in forests. Major improvement is also evident in the development of village resources."

Problems in the past

The crucial underlying cause of the denudation and forest degradation observed in the Dugli-Jawarra sal forests area was overlapping or unclear ownership rights. The forest areas are owned by the state, and villagers living in and around the forests are legally entitled to harvest only non-timber forest products. However, as local populations surged, the demand for livelihood needs also increased, leading to illegal logging and consequent overharvesting of timber, as well as excessive exploitation of non-timber forest products. Villagers also cut live trees for fuelwood rather than limiting fuelwood collection to dead material, thereby hindering regeneration in the forests.

Other destructive practices included overgrazing and accidental, or sometimes intentional, forest fires. Additionally, because villagers had no ownership rights and therefore little incentive to involve themselves in any dispute, they paid little attention to unauthorized felling of trees. Some villagers even cooperated with the illegal loggers to earn extra cash.

Policy shift

In most parts of India, forestry was facing similar challenges. The government tried a variety of initiatives to curtail deforestation, but most programmes failed. During the 1980s, evidence of success through participatory approaches to forest management was brought to the government's attention. There was increasing realization that forests could only be protected if local people are actively involved in their management. In 1990, many state governments passed resolutions on JFM consistent with the recommendations of the National Forest Policy of 1988. The central government directed state governments to enable local people to participate in the protection and conservation of forests and to establish local-level forest protection committees.

Following such direction, the state government (then Madhya Pradesh) initiated a JFM programme in 1991, facilitating the formation of JFM committees for the protection and management of forests adjacent to rural villages. The villages around the Dugli-Jawarra sal forest constituted JFM committees in 1995 and 1996.

In successive years, the state government observed that there was scope for improving livelihoods in the Dugli-Jawarra communities by intensified conservation of biological diversity and improved ecosystem management. To implement these activities, the state government established PPAs, in consonance with the IUCN Category VI management category, identifying and delineating sites of predominantly unmodified natural ecosystems. These areas thus encompass several forests where JFM had been implemented previously. The National Forest Policy of 1988 and the State (Chhattisgarh) Forest Policy of 2001 provide the basic policy framework for PPA implementation.

In the Dugli-Jawarra People's Protected Area, the most prominent stakeholders are the Chhattisgarh Forest Department, forest-dependent communities and villages, sawmillers, timber and non-timber forest product traders, pharmaceutical industries and other local communities. Each of these stakeholders has different objectives, motivations and strategies. However, the stakeholder groups appear to work together coherently. For example, the State Forest Department is mandated to conserve forest resources and generate revenue. The department carries out its mandate by implementing silvicultural operations including felling, thinning and reforestation, in line with working plan prescriptions. On the other hand, forest-dependent people collect or harvest non-timber forest products and small timber as a major source of income and livelihoods. These two groups share management responsibilities for the Dugli-Jawarra forests and also share in the distribution of financial benefits.

"We talk with the villagers to identify their needs. Based on these needs, we work with the villagers to prepare programmes that enable both parties to meet their goals. In addition, we provide the villagers with financial and technical assistance," said N.P. Biskia, Sub-Divisional Forest Officer. He also acknowledged the roles played by villagers in taking care of the forests - protecting against illegal cutting, overharvesting and forest fires, among others. All mechanical thinning, and material from the cleaning of rehabilitated areas, is awarded to villagers. In addition, villagers receive 15 percent of the total value of the harvested timber and bamboo (30 percent in case of Village Forest Committees) as compensation for their management efforts.

People's institutions

In the JFM hierarchy, Forest Protection Committees (FPCs) and Village Forest Committees (VFCs) are prominent among people's institutions. Both are constituted under the facilitation of the State Forest Department. An FPC is formed in villages within a 5-kilometre radius of a specific forest area, if it has forest cover greater than 40 percent. A VFC is launched among villages where the forest cover is less than 40 percent. The 11 committees working in the Dugli-Jawarra PPA were formed between 1995 and 1996.

The procedures for constituting FPCs and VFCs are the same throughout Chhattisgarh. Each requires a meeting attended by at least 50 percent of the people from the village, who have voting rights in the Gramsabha - the village-level electoral body of people under the Madhya Pradesh Panchayat Raj Adhiniyam - to unanimously pass a resolution to constitute a committee. The Territorial Divisional Forest Officer registers the committee. On registration, the new FPC or VFC is formally recognized.

Any villager who is eligible to vote may become a member of the general committee of the FPC or VFC. It is mandatory that a woman occupy the post of either president or vice-president of the committee. A confederation of committee presidents is established at the forest division level. An Executive Committee of the FPC/VFC comprising between 11 and 21 members is elected from the general committee members to provide leadership to the general committee. The president of the general committee acts as ex-officio president of the executive committee. There are legal provisions to have adequate representation of women, scheduled tribals (any tribe or tribal community defined under Article 342 of the Indian Constitution), scheduled castes (under Article 341 of the Constitution) and other identifiable minorities in accordance with the village population ratio. The forest guard or area forester is appointed as ex-officio secretary of the executive committee.

The decision-making process for FPCs and VFCs is highly democratic. Every member has equal opportunity to express his or her opinion. The final decision is made by majority decision. A committee secretary records the proceedings of each meeting. The presence of 50 percent of the members of the executive committee and 30 percent of the general committee are required to reach a quorum.

In the Dugli-Juwarra case, a coordinating committee at the PPA level coordinates the various initiatives developed by the 11 FPCs and VFC. The presidents of all the FPCs and VFCs constitute the membership of the coordinating committee.

Forest Protection Committees and Village Forest Committees

The FPC (or VFC) prepares a micro plan and annual action plan in collaboration with the forest department. These plans include both forest management and village resource development aspects. Generally, the micro plan focuses on community and beneficiary aspirations. The activities in the micro plan are site-specific and include the development of village infrastructure, forest protection and various income generating activities. The committees ensure that committee members volunteer Shramdan (rendering free physical labour) in the forest, while also drafting the micro plan and maintaining the committee's accounting records.

Each family that belongs to a committee receives an annual nistar (an allowance of non-traditional forest products, including small timber and bamboo). The members of committees also receive a share of any forest products obtained through thinning and other silvicultural operations. Members of the FPCs divide a 15 percent share of commercial timber and bamboo harvested from the forests they manage, while members of the VFCs divide a 30 percent allocation.

Forest management

One of the main activities of the Dugli-Jawarra PPA programme was to identify and manage medicinal plants in the area. In the initial stage, the forest department - with the help of knowledgeable local people such as Vaidya (herbal medicine practitioners) - prepared a list of medicinal plants found in the forest. Members of the committees, aided by experts, expanded the lists to identify the medicinal properties and economic importance of each species. In a second phase, local communities implemented a comprehensive participatory mapping and resource assessment methodology to assess the availability of each medicinal species, as well as its density, regeneration properties and sustainable yield.

"It was only after I joined in the process of medicinal plant identification that I learned the medical properties and economic value of each species," said Sukhram Natam, a neo-literate youth of the Gond tribe. "We had very limited knowledge about forest plants before the project. Some of our people harvest these plants, but since they have little knowledge about the true value of the plants, they trade these to middlemen or contractors at a very low price."

Prior to the project, forest fires regularly destroyed large tracts of forest and the plant resources found therein. Under the PPA, the committees are responsible for controlling forest fires. A primary means of improving forest fire control is the development of an early warning system and effective fire brigades. A number of unemployed youths have been hired as forest watchers and fire fighters. These youths patrol the forest areas as a group. When they detect a fire, they extinguish it or, if it is beyond their control, alert the villagers and forest department to join in fighting the fire. "Involving the community in controlling forest fires is more effective than previously, when it was the sole the responsibility of the forest department," observed Sardar Bhaire, a Forest Range Officer.

Conservation measures

In situ and ex situ conservation measures at the Dugli-Jawarra PPA have been practised since 2001. In situ conservation refers to on-site conservation, including propagation of planting materials that are locally available in natural forests, to protect these species from extinction. Other forestry operations include soil and water conservation schemes such as gully plugging (various combinations of biological and engineering structures to control gully erosion), removal of unwanted weeds, and tending of medicinal plants. To date, almost 2 000 hectares have been brought "under in situ conservation" and a further 1 000 hectares are considered to be "under progress towards in situ conservation." In 2001, the net income from sales of non-timber forest products taken from in situ conservation sites was US$3 760, and this expanded rapidly to US$7 825 in 2002. To ensure protection of the in situ conservation areas, the forest department provides funds (approximately US$175/hectare/year) to the committees to assist in implementing protective measures such as those described above.

There are also 10 hectares in the Dugli-Jawarra forests that are allotted for ex situ conservation. As part of this effort, valuable medicinal plants such as ashwagandha (Withania somnifera), baibidang (Emblica ribes), lemongrass (Cymbopogon citrates), isabgol (Platago ovata), bach (Acorus calamus), keokand (Costus speciosus) and kalmegh (Andrographis paniculata), among others, have been planted in nurseries in Jawarra Village.

Sustainable livelihood options and initiatives

To reduce the dependence of villagers on forest resources, a number of new initiatives to develop sustainable livelihood options have been launched. In Jawarra Village, an irrigation facility has been established that provides water for 50 hectares in the rabi season (November to February) and 86 hectares in the kharif season (July to October). For Dugli Village, five diesel pumps have been installed at the nearby Kajal River for irrigation and 17 tubewells have been installed for lift irrigation in the village of Devgaon. These new irrigation facilities have enabled a shift in cropping patterns in these villages. In the past, villagers practised monocropping because rainfall was the crucial constraining factor. With the availability of irrigation facilities, the villagers are now planting paddy, wheat, pulses and vegetables.

The PPA project has likewise built and renovated water tanks (reservoirs) in the villages of Dinkarpur and Munaikera to store water for livestock and watering of crops. Potable drinking water facilities for villagers have also been established. In other villages, farmers have been assisted in establishing Gobar biogas plants. Improved chullahs (wood and biomass cooking stoves) for efficient utilization of energy have also been introduced.

In Jawarra Village, the Temple of Lord Hanumana (a Hindu deity) has been renovated. This has now become a place for social gatherings and a meeting place for villagers. The PPA management has also initiated an adult literacy programme for its villagers.

The forest department has established a training centre at Dugli, aimed at enhancing villagers' capacities for managing the resources of the Dugli-Jawarra forest. To date, the forest department has collaborated with partner institutions in conducting 24 training courses on such topics as forest management, techniques for cultivating medicinal plants, non-destructive harvesting of non-timber forest products, value-added processing, extracting salai (Boswellia serrata) gum, marketing, managing self-help groups, beekeeping, health care, milk production, fishery management and forest protection.

Through their own initiatives and contributions, local communities have established a Ram Kothi (grain bank) in each village. The grain bank is maintained for two purposes: to provide high-quality seeds at the time of sowing, and for consumption in times of scarcity. When crops are poor, villagers are readily loaned grain from the Ram Kothi. After their next harvest, borrowers must replace the borrowed grains and provide an additional 50 percent of grain as "interest." The government takes the responsibility for replacing old stocks of grain.

"The grain bank is our salvation during misfortunes," explained Shrimati Senwati Dhrub from Jawarra Village. She expressed satisfaction that Jawarra Village has deposited more than 10 000 kilograms of rice in the grain bank, which is sufficient to meet the needs of the whole village during famine.

In recent years, women have openly expressed their concerns over the need for monetary savings and food security as a basis for raising living standards. Local women have organized themselves into a number of small self-help groups consisting of 10 to 20 members with similar aspirations. These groups promote savings among members and the money is pooled for members' emergency needs.

Market interventions

Marketing of nationalized (under state control) non-timber forest products such as tendu patta, sal seeds, harra and gum is done through a three-tier cooperative system organized by the Chhattisgarh State Minor Forest Produce (Trading and Development) Cooperative Federation Ltd. Impoverished villagers from the Dugli-Jawarra area, who collect non-timber forest products, are members of the cooperative society. Collectors of "nationalized non-timber forest products" - those under the control of the government - receive wages for their work. Net profits from trading are shared among stakeholders on an equal basis. For example, under the existing system for trade in tendu leaves, a family engaged in tendu collection receives an average of US$16-45 annually.

For non-nationalized non-timber forest products, however, no such system exists. In the past, villagers sold the products they collected to middlemen (most commonly a village moneylender or small businessman), at very low prices. Generally, the villagers were badly exploited in the absence of adequate market knowledge and without trading power or safeguards. In recent times, however, the forest department has facilitated the establishment of buy-back guarantee agreements with a number of private firms. These companies buy kalmegh (Andrographis paniculata), krishna tulsi (Ocimum sanctum), sugandhhijad (roots of a specific aromatic plant), salparni (Desmodium gangeticum), mahul patta (leaves of Bauhinia vahilii), shatawar (Asparagus racemosus), anantmool (Hemi-desmus indicus), baibidang (Emblica ribes), aonla (Embilica officinalis), dhawai fool (flowers of Woodfordia fruitcosa) and charota (Cassia tora) seed. The buy-back guarantee agreements between the committees and the traders have eliminated unscrupulous middlemen from the marketing channels for non-nationalized non-timber forest products.

Successes and failures

The present management approach has brought a considerable level of satisfaction to the forest department and to the village communities who run the Dugli-Jawarra PPA. Joint management approaches have led to a substantial improvement in the quality and condition of the forests.

Villagers have benefited significantly through trade in non-timber forest products, and the development of infrastructure and skills. Market intervention has eliminated middlemen, leading to increases in sale prices for various nontraditional forest products. The new variety in village and forest development activities has also generated a host of new employment opportunities for villagers.

More importantly, villagers sit under one umbrella and make decisions by consensus. "We solve our conflicts and disputes among ourselves," noted Thakurram Kumbhar, a member of the Jawarra FPC.

Migration of labour from villages to urban centres has been curtailed. "No female from our village has left the village to seek employment during the last two years," observed a woman from Jawarra Village. "Now we provide employment to people from other villages. Before these initiatives, most of our people rarely ate more than one meal per day. Now, due to the new irrigation facilities, we can have at least two meals a day."

For a long time, accessing clean drinking water had been a major problem for the villages. Women walked for long distances during the summer season to collect water, thereby wasting many productive hours. But the new water tanks, renovated and built by the Dugli-Jawarra PPA have solved this problem. Literacy levels in the villages have also improved. More importantly, the system has empowered villagers to discuss their needs and aspirations with forest officials to find mutually acceptable solutions to challenges.

Behind the success

The people-friendly National Forest Policy of 1988 and the Chhattisgarh Forest Policy - Unlocking Forests for People of 2001 have gone a long way towards rehabilitating the Dugli-Jawarra forests. Both policies emphasize the involvement of local communities in managing state forests and conserving biological and cultural diversity. They have encouraged a paradigm shift in Dugli-Jawarra - from forest management for timber production, to a multiple-use framework oriented towards non-timber forest products. Credit should also be given to the Chhattisgarh Government for its initiative in declaring Chhattisgarh "The Herbal State," thereby encouraging conservation, sustainable use and marketing of medicinal plants, while also involving local communities.

The visit of several high-profile dignitaries to the Dugli-Jawarra sal forests has been a major source of inspiration for staff of the forest department and the village communities. A member of Dugli FPC smiled, "Rajivji (late Rajiv Gandhi, then Prime Minister of India) came to our village in 1985. He spoke to us, he asked about our problems.... Afterwards, I was strongly motivated to do something to help my community." Visits of top officials from the state government such as the Secretary, Commissioner, and Principal Chief Conservator of Forests are always a source of encouragement and inspiration. The villagers, as well as forest department staff, appreciate the plaudits they are given for outstanding work.

However, amidst the successes, there remain several sources of apprehension. A major concern for the community is that ownership of the forests and forest land is not transferred to local communities and the forest department reserves the right to dissolve FPCs and VFCs. Some community members view the present status as "a high risk association in collective management." Another concern is that management of Dugli-Jawarra PPA must ensure an even distribution of resources and accumulation of natural and social capital among the VFCs and FPCs. Many community members believe that rewards should more fairly accrue to those who work hardest.

Future challenges

The present approach to management of Dugli-Jawarra sal forest is a promising example of forest development achieving livelihood security through conservation of biological and cultural diversity. The next challenge for the PPA is to tackle intra-community inequalities and ensure equal opportunity for all the villages that participate in managing the forests. There is also a need to refine management strategies to continue to develop better understanding and mutual trust between the village communities and the forest department. Most importantly, although the present levels of knowledge and managerial capacity are sufficient for the village communities to make rational, independent decisions, there is still a need for governmental facilitation and guidance.

The relationship between the forest community and the forest department does not remain constant, but rather it is dynamic and changes with every decision. Today's equilibrium will change tomorrow. As levels of education and exposure to the outside world increase, similarly the aspirations and requirements of community groups will change. The government will need to review policy instruments regularly to tackle changing situations in the future.

Mr Shrinivas Rao, Divisional Forest Officer of Dhamtari, summed up the success of the forestry programmes: "We strive to win the confidence of people and we go for need-based programmes. There are three points that are essential to ensure a successful People's Protected Area programme: the willingness of villagers to participate in the programme; teamwork among forest department staff and villagers; and the most important of all, the political will of the country."

About the author

Dr Biswa Ranjan Phukan is a research associate in the faculty area of Forest Resource Economics and Management at the Indian Institute of Forest Management in Bhopal, India. He holds M.Sc. (Agriculture) and Ph.D. (Agricultural Economics) degrees from Assam Agricultural University. In 1995, he was awarded the prestigious "Jawaharlal Nehru Fellowship for Doctoral Studies." To date, he has completed more than ten research and consultancy assignments focusing on agricultural development, agroforestry, tribal issues, shifting cultivation, medicinal plants, non-timber forest products and sustainable forest management. Currently, the focus of his research is economic valuation and natural resources' accounting.

Landscape of natural forests and plantations maintained for watershed and biodiversity protection in central Sri Lanka (courtesy Masakazu Kashio).

[21] EDCs for rehabilitating the Holy Abode of the Lord.
[22] An administrative body of elected members for a group of villages
[23] Approximately US$534.
[24] Approximately US$0.13

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