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Forests in a Landscape


Engaging with the natural environment whether for food, fodder and medicine or expressions of music and poetry, many traditions embody honour and concern for ecological well-being. We strive to ensure the ecological integrity of our efforts by working as far as possible with entire landscapes, and with all the interrelated communities within it, through a range of arrangements on their land and aquatic resources, including commons, public, and private properties.

Forests represent the second largest land use in India after agriculture, covering 23.57% of the overall landmass of 329 million ha. Local people depend significantly on forests and other common lands for fuel wood, fodder, timber, forage, food, drinking water for animals, and other household requirements. About 275 million of the country's rural poor in India depend on forests for at least part of their subsistence, with the collection and processing of Non Timber Forest Produce (NTFP) alone estimated to be worth between USD 208 million to 645 million per annum. Important ecological functions such as improved transfer of nutrients, retention of moisture for a longer period, improved pollination, and pest control directly help improve farm productivity and incomes.

Despite their criticality, forests across India are besieged - previously inaccessible areas are now open to exploitation, and subsistence hunting and gathering in forests has given way to the large-scale extraction of forest resources and produce so as to cater to industrial and distant market demands. While we are yet to fully comprehend how the various cycles of elements, natural, geo-chemical, biological and physical processes are interconnected, we are equally callous and ignorant about the costs that would be imposed upon us, should these connections be disrupted and rendered beyond repair.

Though it may seem very utilitarian a view, forests and other commons need to be maintained for the ecological functions they serve, services they provide, the biodiversity they harbour, and to mitigate the harmful effects of greenhouse gases. In more direct terms, we must sustain our forests to sustain our agriculture and water requirements. Developmental efforts to improve a given area, often administered by different arms of the government, tend to be fragmented or piecemeal and at times even work at cross-purposes, giving rise to further complexities. Regimes of conservation and use of forests, grazing lands, and water bodies therefore call for umbrella institutional arrangements that span across habitation and administrative domains, and are sensitive to customary means of use and access.

In such a scenario, we work towards:

  • Highlighting the linkages between forests and associated production systems in the landscape - agriculture, livestock keeping and fisheries through systemic drivers such as soil, moisture, nutrients, biomass and biodiversity
  • Locating forests and other commons within the larger ecological, social and economic setting such that preservation, conservation and exploitation objectives are assigned to different areas within the landscape
  • Increasing the availability of biomass and water and simultaneously assisting local communities devise norms and mechanisms to prevent injudicious use locally and beyond
  • Concentrating on Common Property Resources as these offer a single platform to collectively address issues of social justice, ecological restoration and poverty alleviation
  • Integrating and nesting the various village-level institutions involved in natural resource governance under the Panchayat without infringing upon their functional autonomy such that even as they work to fulfill their objectives, they are accountable to the Panchayat
  • Bringing together the representatives of village institutions, civil society groups, academia and government functionaries on a common platform, so as to achieve better stewardship of the area

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