It is estimated that there are 66.5 million tribals in India (Maheshwari, 1990). With few exceptions, the majority of the tribals are forest dwellers. In spite of many competing demands and pressures on forests, tribals continue to depend on forests for their livelihood. Historically, in India, tribal perspectives on forests and government policies affecting forests have followed very different trajectories. State policies driven by industrial demands were in direct conflict with the customary use of forests by forest populations. Colonial state policies since 1894 and post-independence forest policies have characterized tribals as indiscriminate users of forests and therefore sought to protect forests from the tribals. "Despite the policy thrusts and legislative instruments to curtail the use of forests by the local people, forest dwellers continued to find access to forests. This was due to the overwhelming dependence of the forest dwellers which make it difficult to fully administer the laws" (Pathak, 1994, pp. 27-28). In the last five years, under the joint forest management policy of the Indian government, various state governments have experimented with devolving authority for forest management to local communities. This new approach to control, protection and management of forests - joint forest management (JFM) - has profound implications for forest dwelling tribals.
JFM policies, when viewed from a gender perspective, have significant consequences for women in tribal communities. Women are the linchpin that connects the livelihood strategies of tribal households with forest wealth. Tribal women are largely responsible for collecting and processing many of the forest products. Therefore, for JFM policies to be successful in promoting sustainable forest management by tribal communities, it must involve tribal women in deliberate and significant ways.
This publication focuses on the dependence of tribal households on forests in the Eastern Ghats of Andhra Pradesh, India, and the implications for state and community partnerships in managing these forests. Particular attention is given to the gender dimensions of forest use in tribal villages and the implications for the implementation of Joint Forest Management Program being undertaken in Andhra Pradesh. The publication addresses several inter-related issues:
1. the role of forests and non-wood forest products (NWFPs) in the survival strategies of tribal households in Vishakapatnam district of Andhra Pradesh;
2. the important role women play in the daily survival strategies of tribals; and
3. the ensuing lessons and implications for planning and implementing JFM initiated forest protection committees in tribal villages.
The following discussion is multi-dimensional. The goal is to explore the critical role that tribal women play in sustaining tribal households and the resulting implications for crafting and implementing forest co-management programs that are sensitive to the pivotal role played by women in extracting forest products. This publication is based on primary and secondary data - qualitative as well as quantitative - from the high altitude region of Andhra Pradesh.