Budhikhamari Village

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 Location Ecosystem Type   Conservation Type   Area(hectare) Legal status 
 Mayurbhanj, Odisha Forest Ecosystem Conservation 3247 Reserved Forest

Case Study (2009)

Background

The exploitation of the dense sal forests of Mayurbhanj began during British rule when the British set up a railway station at the district headquarters Baripada in 1921. From 1952 to 1972, Budhikhamari’s Reserved Forests were managed under the working plan system prescribing clear felling. Commercial exploitation combined with continued fuelwood hacking and grazing constrained the restoration and by 1980 the forest was badly degraded. The emergence of timber mills around Baripada town created much of the pressure as it gave rise to illicit felling and timber smuggling. By the late 1970s, forests around Budhikhamari were decimated. In 1975, the forest department officially declared about 10,000 ha patch of forest land as nonexistent and the entire forest was clear felled in no time. Ninety-five villages in the periphery of the forest lost their only source of income.

There are two schools of thoughts about exactly how the forest protection began in Budhikhamari. According to Mahapatra (1999) the initiative in the village started on its own in 1983 when, after years of drought, a herbal medical practitioner proclaimed at a village gathering that the village would not survive if the forest was not regenerated. Gorachand Mahato, the current President of the Mayurbhanj Forest Protection Committee (FPC), and some of his friends took these words seriously. He, along with three other friends, started making rounds of the 90 households in the village to convince them to protect the forest. They realised that protection would not be an easy task as the forest was huge, and that if they did protect the forests there would be many people to destroy it.

Soon after this first step was taken, all extraction from the forest was banned. Villagers were permitted only to take broken twigs and dead branches from the forest. Five to seven people started patrolling the forest everyday, each armed with a stick (thenga). Each family in the village supported the initiative by sending at least one family member for protection. A FPC was set up. Its members travelled by bicycle and on foot to other villages surrounding the forest and persuaded them to protect the same patch of forest. Within one year, 15 villages were protecting the forest.

The villagers of Dubhiya caught and fined some villagers smuggling timber from the regenerating forest and the money collected gave birth to the institution called Purti Society, which now leads the FPC activities in the village.1 In 1986, the Budhikhamari Joint Protection Party (BJPP), aided by Range Officer K.C. Mishra and Gorachand Mahanto, was formed. By 1998, BJPP had grown to include 95 villages and extended its protection to over 3,247 ha of forest.

On the other hand Poffenbueger (2000) states that the efforts for conservation date back to 1983 when the then Range Officer Mr. K.C. Mishra encouraged and supported the involvement of the local villagers in the forest protection. He started approaching communities and spoke to their leaders about severe shortages of fuelwood, fodder and other forest resources. Gorachand Mahanto agreed with Mishra and he formed a FPC in his village. Slowly with the support of the forest department other villages were also encouraged to form such committees. Villagers were intiailly sceptical but slowly they understood the importance and benefits of forest protection. In 1986 an association of the FPC was formed. In 1987 a meeting of 50 villages was called, in which many agreed to protect a 50 ha forest patch close to their village. They also agreed to select four young men from the village for the protection. After seeing the results of protection, 15 more villages joined the initiative in 1988. In the same year a multi-village mobile force was formed for patrolling a greater area of the forests.

Whatever the origin, the protection efforts progressed gradually and eventually representatives from participating villages formed an apex body called BJPP comprising the president and secretary of each member FPC, with all the positions elected by the members. In 1999, a woman extension worker was hired and has joined the executive committee. BJPP helps the member FCPs to resolve the disputes and liaison with the FD and outside NGOs. It also oversees the multi-village mobile squad for forest protection. The BJPP executive committee meets weekly; however, emergency meetings may be held whenever needed. The finances for the FPC are derived from various sources.

These include fees, fines, permits for collection of the forest produce, etc. BJPP also received rewards and grants, which take care of expenses.

BJPP is active in creating awareness among the villages. It often conducts environmental marches and has provided a unified front through which villages can deal with the forest department as well as the more powerful timber smugglers and fuelwood middlemen. Budhikhamari, therefore, appears to be a good example of the forest department and the local community working actively together to protect, conserve and manage forests.

The villages that are involved in the protection of the forests have benefited substantially. In first few years of protection, the availability of sal and tendu leaves rose markedly. Seed production has been improving gradually. In 1992, 78 tons of sal seeds were collected, generating an income of Rs 97,500. Similarly, production of karanj seeds and mahua flowers has also increased. Prior to the protection, a number of villagers were engaged in fuelwood collection and charcoal-making. Their livelihood was seriously impacted by the protection activities. These villagers have now switched to collection of sabai grass for ropemaking as an alternative occupation.

According to the residents of Budikhamari village, the regenerating forests provide some kind of employment to every villager. Villagers are also free to collect the NTFP. Besides, the agricultural production seems to have increased because of the increased availability of water and increased fertility of land due to reduced soil erosion. Availability of fodder and fuelwood is also much higher than before. Thus the initiative has offered many opportunities as far as resource availability and livelihood options are concerned.

No biodiversity assessments have been done to ascertain the quality of the forests although visual impressions indicate a good regeneration.

• Future leadership is one of the main worries for the continuation of this effort. Gorachand Mahanto is already a septuagenarian. Other local leaders in the area have not managed to draw the kind of respect that Mahanto commands within the community.

• Forest patrolling responsibilities seem to affect the economically poor people much more than the well-off families. Those heavily dependent on daily wages have to forego their days earning while discharging forest protection duties; on the other hand well-off families can afford to send someone not otherwise engaged in generating the households’ livelihoods.

• The forest staff keeps changing every few years. New staff members bring in new ideas and often different from the previous officials. Since such initiatives rely largely on the personal relationship between forest staff and villagers, the villagers find it difficult to cope with the changes.

• Those involved with the mobile protection team feel a need for equipment such as flashlights and uniforms.

  This case study has been compiled from the following three documents: M. Poffenberger, ‘The Resurgence of Community Forest Management in Eastern India’, in D. Western, M.R. Wright, and S.C. Strum, Natural Connections: Perspectives in Community Based Conservation (Inland Press, 1994); M. Poffenberger, ‘Communities and Forest Management in South Asia, A regional profile of the working group on community involvement in forest management (WG-CIFM)’ (World Conservation Union (IUCN) 2000); R. Mahapatra, ‘On the War Path’, Down To Earth, Vol. 8, No. 9 September 30 1999. 

1 R. Mahapatra, ‘On the War Path’, Down to Earth, Vol. 8, No.9 Sep 30, 1999.

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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