Behroonguda Village

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 Location Ecosystem Type   Conservation Type   Area(hectare) Legal status 
 Adilabad, Andhra Pradesh Forest Ecosystem Conservation 500 Joint Forest Management (JFM)

Case Study (2009)

Background

This case study gives an insight into the various challenges faced by a village while protecting 500 ha of degraded forest, and whose efforts have emerged as the benchmark in joint forest management in Andhra Pradesh.

The forests of Behroonguda in Adilabad district are dominated by teak with teak forming 59 per cent of the trees present here. Some other species include neem, usirr or amla, mahua and bamboo.

The inhabitants of Behroonguda were originally from a village called Tanimadgu, from where they were evicted in 1945, when the Kadam dam was built. Subsequently, the victims of an extensive fire in Utkoor village have also settled in Behroonguda. These villagers mainly belong to the gond and naikpod tribes. In 1990, the village had 97 households, out of which 57 belonged to gonds and the remaining 40 belonged to naikpods (also closely related to the gond community). The gonds possess a rich tradition of participation in secular and religious village affairs. The villagers have an obligation to attend all the village meetings and cooperate with the headman while implementing the decisions of the village council. Besides, the villagers also contribute in kind appropriate quantities of foodstuff that are required as religious offerings.

The area of Behroonguda was cleared of its forests mainly due to the resettlement of the gonds and naikpods. In 1990, the villagers began to feel the depletion of forest resources around them. There was no timber and no firewood that could be consumed by the villagers in the forest and thus their livelihoods were threatened. The villagers came to the conclusion that the remaining forest area needed to be protected in order to achieve a sustainable livelihood. Subsequently the villagers decided to take necessary steps to rejuvenate the natural resource around them. They organized themselves into a village forest protection committee (FPC). This posed a threat to the timber thieves from the neighbouring villages. The members of the VFPC had physical clashes with the timber smugglers, in which one of the villagers was fatally injured. In course of time they were able to establish their dominance and spread the message that their forests were now being protected from the plunderers.

In 1993, the forest department approached the village and the village was included in the state forest department’s joint forest management (JFM) Programme. At that time the FPC was headed by a woman president named Gouribai and comprised 50 per cent women representatives. Behroonguda Forest Protection Committee became the first in the state to gain official recognition. A micro-plan was drawn up with the participation of almost the entire village, along with two NGOs and the forest staff.

The FPC made it mandatory for everyone in the village to patrol the forest area; failure to do so resulted in a penalty of Rs 100 to be paid by the offender. Anyone who missed patrolling more than thrice was removed from the VSS.

The forest department has signed a MoU with the villagers and the FPC members have been issued identity cards with their photographs that give them the authority to take corrective measures against timber thieves and other encroachers of the forest.

The meetings of the executive council of the village are held at least once a month and sometimes more often if required. The minutes of the meetings, the details of the decisions taken and a record of those who attended the meetings are regularly maintained.

The women are equal stakeholders in the conservation efforts, as a majority of the wage labourers in employment generated under JFM are women. The Behroonguda FPC had a woman president for a period of five years. A random survey has shown that the women are well aware of the objectives of setting up a forest protection committee and the financial dealings of the FPC.

Through the interactions with the villagers it is clear that the prime interest of the FPC is not based on the economic benefits acquired from the forest resources. The goal of the FPC is, as stated by the head of the panchayat, to equate the health and well-being of the forests with the wealth of the village—a gond perspective on life. These sentiments are clearly reflected in the FPC’s decision to harvest only 30 trees in the first thinning exercise, whereas the silviculturalists had prescribed the removal of 173 trees from the forest. This suggestion would definitely have a positive impact on the quality of teak in these forests, although the action of the FPC is better for the forests from an ecological point of view. Besides, the villagers use the other forest produce and any step towards the creation of a teak monoculture will not be conducive to them. To adhere to this purpose the FD has planted other local species in the degraded forest patches.

The villagers’ far-sightedness towards conservation efforts is clearly reflected in a decision taken by them in June 1998, to deposit their earnings of a sum Rs 4,00,000 derived from the first sale of timber poles, firewood, and grass into a five-year bank deposit rather than distributing it amongst the VSS members. The VSS was guided primarily by the concern for future generations to follow certain guidelines that would provide sufficient incomes for conservation in future.

After the community was organised, and with the support of the government, a number of activities were taken up by the villagers. Some of these activities and associated impacts are:

Soil and moisture conservation

1. Supported by the JFM programme, the villagers constructed a number of bunds across streams and excavated percolation tanks for soil and moisture conservation. Villagers reported a marked increase in the water level in the first year itself, offering better prospects for growing vegetables for the first time in this otherwise drought-prone area.

Social and economic impacts

1. Seasonal migration to nearby towns and villages in search of employment, especially from March to May, was a common feature in the village. The forest department introduced dailywage employment opportunities to the villagers in silvicultural operations, soil and moisture conservation, and other support activities. Since the villagers could find a source of income generation in their own village, the trend of migration was eventually reversed.

2. The distribution of subsidized smokeless chullahs to half the households has cut the firewood needs of the village by 25 per cent. Some families have even started using biogas for cooking purposes.

3. Effective forest protection offered by the VSS has resulted in the re-emergence of non-timber forest produce (NTFP)1 like mahua and bamboo in the forest. It has been estimated that after this commencement of regeneration the villagers have been extracting NTFP worth Rs 1,45,000 per annum for personal consumption.

4. Silvicultural operations in the forest have resulted in adequate timber to meet the needs of all the villagers. There is a surplus of timber that is eventually put up for sale in the market after all the local needs are met.2

5. In June 1998, the total cost of protecting and managing the Behroonguda forest worked out to Rs 2,48,290. However the total benefit received by the local community was about Rs 6,36,432. This indicated a benefit-cost ratio of 2.5:1. Out of this amount, Rs 3, 59,500 was directed to the usufruct benefits of the villagers. Even after deduction of this amount from the total benefit, the profit exceeds the cost of protection. It is interesting to note that 31 per cent of the cost of protection is contributed by the community, mainly through voluntary patrolling of forests.

Ecological impact

1. The forest protection has resulted in a marked increase in the biological diversity of the forest, including improved production of NTFP.

2. For a good growth of teak in the natural forest, silviculturists had recommended a 20 per cent removal after the first six years of protection and 15 per cent of the remainder after 15 years. This would mean extraction of 173 trees after 6 years. However, the VSS decided to extract only 30 trees. While less than optimum extraction might reduce the commercial value of teak, it will not do any ecological damage to the forest.

3. The Jannaram Forest Division has undertaken participatory research in the Behroonguda forests. The forest staff and the local people have created research plots in the forests to monitor the impacts of silvicultural interventions and the local harvests on the growth of forest. The results show a good regeneration and a good quality of forest.

Behroonguda has now become a source of inspiration for the surrounding villages. In 1998, one of the neighbouring villages, Chintapally, inspired by Behroonguda, came together to form a VSS and petitioned the forest department for recognition. The committee members invited the president of the Behroonguda FPC to conduct meetings and maintain accounts for them in the initial stages.

One of the major drawbacks in this conservation effort is that the forest department has not given a clear picture to the people about the period for which assistance in the technical and financial aspects will be provided. Another unresolved issue with JFM in Andhra Pradesh is the ambiguity on the issue of the final harvest, as to whether it will or will not take place.

There are a number of reasons for the success of Behroonguda. The gond community has a high sense of social organization. In addition, like the other efforts of this kind, local leadership has played a very important and inspirational role in the success of the conservation efforts in Behroonguda.

The forest department has also reciprocated by allocating one forest guard and forester working exclusively to provide help to the Behroonguda villagers in protecting and managing their 500 ha of forest.

The motto that has kept the village going has been:

Dille tha sarkar manga vanya, Keda ayo vada-kedathe pandtha Pandi na palun make mandaana, Mava nathe mava sarkar (The government in Delhi should come to our doorstep, the forest should become our backyard. The fruits of the forest should be ours, our government should be in our village).

  All information has been extracted from E. D’Silva and B. Nagnath, ‘Local people managing local forests: Behroonguda shows the way in Andhra Pradesh, India’, Report prepared with help from Asia Forestry Network (1999).

K. Bhanumathi
Director, Samatha
Plot 154, Sector - V,
Visalakshi Nagar,
Visakhapatnam - 530043
Email: [email protected]
Ph: 0891-2737662

1 Income from sale of NTFP and wages from forest work together constituted 43 per cent of the total family income in 1998.

2 In 1998 itself, the villagers received Rs 3,59,500 from the sale of 3,198 teak poles thinned from 100 hectares as part of silvicultural oprerations.

3 Editor’s note: It is not clear from the available information what is the faunal diversity in the area and how it has been impacted by the village initiative.

This case study was part of the Directory on Community Conserved Areas (2009), published by Kalpavriksh. The directory can be downloaded here.

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