Joint Forest Management (JFM): The Need for a Fresh Approach

R. R. Sahays[1]


Joint Forest Management (JFM) has become almost synonymous with forest and natural resource management these days. Any approach or strategy for the protection, conservation and development of forest resources and forest ecosystem involves the participation of local people in the entire management process. However, the JFM methodology currently being applied all round the globe is not generating much confidence. Experiences in many places in India have emphasised the need to have a fresh look at the whole approach. It has been noted that if a village is approached with an entry point activity and an investment package in the name of JFM, people start losing interest in the whole process once that input package is over. This ultimately reflects on the sustainability of the entire programme. If the villagers are themselves not ready for a change then sustainability of any rural development programme or poverty alleviation programme cannot be ensured only by pumping in fluid in the name of development projects or schemes, etc. If people are to develop a genuine interest in the whole development process, the initiative should come from within the village itself. The expectations of the villagers should be kept low. At the same time, they should be encouraged to take decisions themselves for the improvement of the entire village. Also, conscious efforts should be made to introduce accountability as well as transparency in the whole system at each stage. A “village bank” consisting of willing villages should be set up in different areas and the concept of voluntary labour (shramdan) should be given top priority during the entire selection and prioritization process. Such a fresh approach would pave the way for sustainable forest management; which is a must for improving living standards.

1. Introduction

1.01 Joint Forest Management (JFM) has become the keyword in the present management of forestry sector People’s participation in overall protection of forest has become sine qua non. JFM ha been recognized as an important tool, nay, strategy for ensuring sustainable development of forest ecosystem. However, a close scrutiny of the progress of.JFM activities in India does indicate non-attainment of desired success in this field. Notwithstanding the fact that around 15% of the total forest area of the country has been brought under JFM yet the overall dent of this strategy has not been up to desired level And, this has necessitated to have a fresh look into the whole concept of.JPIVL

2. Present Status of JFM

2.01 The institutional mechanism to facilitate JFM in India started with National Forest Policy in 1988 followed by June 1990 circular issued by the Government of India in this regard. Till today, around 22 states have issued requisite orders to facilitate implementation of the JFM elicit people’s participation in managing the forest resources. Different modalities have been put forward by different states. State level orders are more or less patterned on the national JFM policy and they provide for people’s active involvement in planning of management of natural resources, share in usufructs and final produce etc. However, the constitution of the committees, participation of women and other weaker sections of the society, sharing of benefit, funds mechanism, conflict resolution mechanism, marketing mechanism etc. are different in difference states. The criteria of land to be brought under JFM are mostly degraded forest land except in case of Madhya Pradesh where good forest areas are also worked under JFM

2.02 As per the latest information available around 36,130 JFM committees have been constituted in 22 states. Around 10.25 million ha. of forests have been brought under JFM. State-wise status in different states as on 1.1.2000 has been shown as below.

Present Status of Joint Forest Management. (As on L1.2000)

S No.


Total Forest Area (Sq.Km)

No. of JFM committee

Area under JFM (Ha.)


Andhra Pradesh





Arunachal Pradesh




















Himachal Pradesh










Jammu & Kashmir















Madhya Pradesh








































Tamil Nadu










Uttar Pradesh





West Bengal








3. Present Implementation Mechanism and its impact

3.01 The villages -ire initially selected after careful consideration of the existing forest area, population profile, past track in forest conservation and development etc. Initial financial support through entry point activities has almost become a pre requisite for starting the IFM programme as it is supposed to generate goodwill amongst the people for Forest Department A detailed micro plan on the basis of PRA (Participative Rural Appraisal) exercise is prepared which contains both forestry and non-forestry developmental activities. It is presumed that Forest Department as also non-forest Department like DRDA, Agriculture, Horticulture etc. would intervene at appropriate time through their inputs so as to ensure sustainable rural development. Detailed action plan is prepared on annual basis for intervention by Forest Department and other agencies. This micro plan also envisages usufruct-sharing mechanism, which varies from State to State as per the policies of the respective State Governments. Capacity building activities are also supposed to be taken up prior to initiating actual implementation of the programme in any village The decision for further development of forest areas through afforestation activities and/or soil & moisture conservation measures etc. are taken by the 3PM committee which is supposed to be registered under Societies Registration Act or Cooperative Act or any other relevant act Regular feedback mechanism is operationalised at many places to monitor and review the progress of the programme from time to time.

3.02 The experience of implementation of JFM in different States reveals that the whole concept still remains to be institutionalised. The essence of the programme is the empowerment at the grass root level However, necessary decentralization has not been attempted in the Forest Department. Nor, any change has been noticed in the hierarchical structure. Further delegation of power and decentralization of authority are yet to take place at various levels. Entry point activities have not been able to stimulate the local villagers to participate fully in the developmental activities. In many areas, people have been found to demonstrate withdrawal system once entry point activities have been completed and the periodic input intervention by the Department is either withdrawn or made irregular. Examples of Arabari in West Bengal, Harda in Madhya Pradesh and so many other places point out this fact that villagers are not prepared to participate voluntarily in the overall developmental activities without regular intervention from the different agencies. They need to be given input at regular interval in the form of some employment generation schemes, plans etc. by the Forest Department Such psychological and financial bathers have inhibited the sustainability of the entire JFM programme. Absence of clear-cut relationship between JFM committee and the existing village Panchayat has made the smooth progress of entire JFM process quite difficult in many places. Because of absence of productive functional relationship between the JFM bodies and Panchayats in the wake of increased decentralisation of power to the Panchayat Raj institutions through the 73 Constitutional amendment, lot of problems are coming to the fore. Poor marketing linkage of Forest Protection Committee (FPC) has adversely affected the sustainability of the entire programme. Concept of voluntary labour (shramdan) in found to be missing in many villages. The problem of landless labourers/villagers is not being focussed properly making their overall involvement in the entire development process quite unsatisfactory. Monitoring and evaluation mechanism has not been developed properly to get regular feedback so as to ensure remedial measures in between. The linkage of this programme to different departments/ organisations has not institutionalised in the absence of clear-cut guidelines/ directives from respective State Government.

4. Experience in FDCM

4.01 Forest Development Corporation of Maharashtra Ltd., (FDCM Ltd.) is a Govt of Maharashtra undertaking entrusted with the task of development and management of about 5.0 lacs. ha. forest area of the State taken on lease since its inception in 1974. The experience gained by the FDCM Ltd. during the protection of entire forest area under its control made this point quite clear that participation of people is a must to ensure effective protection seeking complete involvement of the.. local people in the protection of plantation and adjoining forest in sensitive areas and this entire approach is seen as a possible and cost effective method.

4.02 Although Government of Maharashtra made its intention quite clear regarding implementation of Joint Forest Management Programme in forest areas yet the provisions of Government order were not applicable to the forest area under the control of FDCM Ltd. Such dichotomy in approach did get manifested in overall protection status of FDCM areas. However since FDCM Ltd. was convinced of the necessity to involve local population in the management of the forest area, some initiatives were taken by the FDCM staff at local level, particularly in and around Nashik of Máharashtra State, in this direction of ensuring people’s participation.

4.03 The core of FDCM approach was not to make any sort of commitment to the villagers initially The thrust of this approach was not to take up any entry point activity or not to give any incentive to the villagers for taking up JFM. Under this approach, efforts are made to identify those villages where people are quite positive in their response and they are willing to do voluntary labour (Shramdan) to the maximum extent “Village bank” of such willing villages is prepared and it is regularly updated. Subsequently, efforts are taken to match those identified villages with different activities of FDCM ltd. (like harvesting, thinning afforestation etc.) in addition to the development process of entire area so that some income- generation activities could be undertaken by those villager& The implementation strategy essentially involves taking up cap building exercise by providing requisite training to the local people as also to the field staff in different areas. During this exercise, local leadership is identified and encouraged to play more active role in the overall development process. JFM committees are set up in all these villages and their registrations are done so as to introduce some sort of accountability and transparency into the entire working of these committees.

Special efforts are made to generate JFM funds quite regularly. Concept of incentive I reward in place of entry point activity has been introduced in these villages and the quantum of the incentive / reward is decided on the basis of the extent of response of the local people in the management of the forest area. During all these exercises, endeavour in also made to link the development, activities of the villages to the different schemes of other departments like Agriculture Department, Horticulture Department, Tribal Welfare Department etc. These aspects are taken care of at the time of preparation of micro-plan, which is essentially done by the local villagers through PEA exercise with the assistance of local forest personnels.

5. Suggested Implementation Model

5.01 Based on the experiences derived from Forest Development Corporation of Maharashtra Ltd., some specific model can be suggested which could ensure sustainable development through people’s participation in the form of JFM.

5.02 Utmost care needs to be taken for identification of suitable villages. As a matter of fact, all such villages where people’s response to developmental schemes/plans particularly with reference to forest and environment is quite forthcoming and positive, where expectation level of the villagers is not high and people are prepared to take up voluntarily “shramdan” whenever required, should be identified. A “Village Bank consisting of all such willing villages should be created and updated regularly. This Bank will act as a “feeder channel” for selection of villages where JFM supposed to be implemented. Regular meeting / discussion with the villagers would help identify and prioritize such villages for JFM In this way, entire programme would be need-based which is clear-cut departure from target-oriented approach.

5.03 Simultaneously, a time bound, focussed programme for sensitization/ orientation of the field officials should be taken up. This should be continuing activity at least during the initial phase.

5.04 One of the important points which is a definite departure from the existing pattern is that no commitment of any sort should be given to the villagers for usufruct sharing. Villagers sans any expectation can only be expected to contribute towards sustainability of any programme. No entry-point activity needs to be taken in any such village contrary to the system being adopted presently. Instead, a system of reward! incentive should be introduced in all JFM villages based on the performance of the JFM committee during first two-three years. Quantum of reward / incentive should be commensurate with the response level of’ the villagers Village which does not subscribe to the concept of voluntary shramdan should in no case be identified for JFM works.

5.05 Preparation of “micro-plan” on the basis of PRA exercise should be done by the villagers and not by the forest officials Forest Department should rather act as facilitator in preparation of plan and its implementation. The Department should give all necessary inputs for preparation of scientific management plan to ensure sustainable management of entire forest area belonging to the village. The management options for such forest should have a vision for meeting the global, national and regional goals. This requires investments in superior technology and intensive management regimes at par with the best managed forests in the world.

5.06 In order to provide legal back up, all Forest Protection Committees (FPCs) need to be registered either under Societies Registration. Act of 1 or Cooperative Act or any other relevant act or rule by the State Govt This would accord legal status to the JFM Committee for taking any action in the best interest of all concerned. Not only this, this step would also provide transparency and accountability to the whole system. This should be necessarily followed by setting up JFM fund by opening joint account in any bank to be operated at least jointly by the Chairman and the representative of the Forest Department working as Member Secretary. All contributions or wages in lieu of voluntary shramdan etc. must necessarily be credited into the IFM account and the statement of accounts etc. must be made public at regular interval so as to build up confidence in entire system.. Any withdrawal from this account needs be done after getting consent from the JFM Committee Members. The activities which are required to be financed out of this fund should be carefully selected so as to generate further income which should go on increasing the level of revolving JFM fund. Decision for utilisation of the available fund should rest with the committee members only. Forest department should act only as facilitator.

507 The focus of JFM would be on sustainable management of Non-Timber Forest Products (NTFPS) and this will also be the main source of earning ‘for the beneficiaries. One of the important responsibilities of the forest department should be to develop harvesting and marketing linkages with the consumer industries. This will also ensure local storage and improvement in processing.

5.08 Linkages with different departments should be ensured by coming out with specific instructions from Government level. As a matter of fact such villages need to be given priority while taking up any individual beneficiary scheme or other schemes of different ministries/ departments of the Government While taking up any development scheme in that village the main target group should be “landless villagers” because it is this group, which poses great threat to the environment and sustainability of the entire programme.

5.09 JFM committee must have independent existence vis-à-vis village panchayat to make it completely apolitical institution. In order to ensure smooth working and coordination Sarpanch of the village panchayat should be co-opted as a member of the committee. The selection of the committee members should be quite broad- based and should be done through transparent democratic system.

5.10 There is also need to link the JFM to the rural development and poverty alleviation programmes for its long term sustainability. Income generation activities should be encouraged in these villages so as to increase the quantum of JFM fund as also to enhance the capability and confidence of the local people.

5.11 One very important dimension of this JFM programme is that suitable mechanism needs to be developed for monitoring and evaluation of the JFM programme at regular interval This periodic monitoring and feedback mechanism would pave way for corrective/ remedial measure in between which is very much required for sustainable forest management. The parameters selected should be quite simple so that even local villagers can go on implementing and assessing their impact from time to tune

6. Conclusion

In the nutshell, if the concept of Joint Forest Management (3PM) is to be accepted as important strategy for ushering in an era of sustainable rural development the present ongoing approach needs to be modified. Entire system needs to be revamped and institutionalised in such a way that local villagers develop a sense of “belongingness” to the existing forest and other natural resources. Overall management of the natural resources should be directed towards raising the general standards of the common masses, which would ultimately lead to the sustainable community development. Need for fresh approach in JFM was never so obvious and if timely appropriate remedial measures are taken the future of forest management is going to be BRIGHT.


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# SPWD New Delhi Memorial Lecture

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[1] Conservator & Regional Manager, Forest Development Corporation of Maharashtra Ltd., Nashik, India.