Building resilience of forest dwellers in Chhattisgarh

Potato sowing in Mainpat Chhattisgarh

What is the problem? Forests occupy a huge area in Chhattisgarh State, nearly 45% of the total area, 30% of which is dense or moderately dense. Marginalised groups – Scheduled Castes and Tribes – constitute some 50% of the state’s population, and live mainly in these densely-forested areas on the north and southern plateaus. These are the poorest and most vulnerable groups in the state – nearly half of Chhattisgarh’s population is below the poverty line, double the India average. The livelihoods of forest dwellers depend on forest produce (among which are wood, tendu leaves, honey and lac; these are often termed non-timber forest produce or NTFP), and this is increasingly threatened by climate change which will disturb the equilibrium of the ecosystem in complex ways, including through increased fires, reduced generation and worsening pest and disease attacks. Agriculture, peoples’ second income source, will also be hit by reduced rainfall, and more pest/disease attacks. The Government’s State Action Plan on Climate Change (SAPCC) does not take these climate risks and human vulnerabilities adequately into consideration.

What is ACT doing about it?
ACT was requested by the Government of Chhattisgarh to undertake a new review of the forestry sector within the SAPCC, and recommended some fundamental measures to build the resilience of forest dwellers, improving their capacity to adapt to climate change. It will implement a much strengthened and climate-sensitive version of the Joint Forest Management (JFM) approach, with which DFID has a long experience in India. The poor in forests are currently allowed to gain very little financially through JFM Committees, and the benefits of high value NTFPs are grabbed by the powerful and well-off. Real empowerment has never taken place, and this intervention aims to significantly enhance the participation of forest communities. It will maximize community involvement in forest management, and the Department of Forestry staff will work in close collaboration with forest people.

How does government benefit?
The Government of Chhattisgarh benefits from this work through access to a thorough review of the forest-related parts of its SAPCC, with an analysis of its issues and recommendations regarding how to increase climate resilience in its huge forest areas. The review makes proposals for preparing the forests for climate change disturbance through a strategy which includes a range of practical measures designed to increase the forest ecosystem’s capacity to adapt to these changes.
Reducing vulnerability and improving livelihoods of forest peoples will decrease their social exclusion, and provide political good-will. It will offer the Department of Forestry the opportunity to engage with tribal communities in a more all-inclusive manner, and to offer them something more substantial than has been the case in the past – a much better deal and likely to be more attractive to them.

How do the poor and vulnerable benefit?
Now that government has a climate-sensitive forest policy, well-directed investments and efforts on their part will ensure greater returns for forest peoples by adding value through improved marketing of forest produce. The rapid development of online markets can provide a breakthrough in marketing of high priced NTFPs, particularly those with medicinal value, by providing quick access to larger and better paying markets.
Peoples’ vulnerability can be reduced by ensuring they get more employment opportunities in forestry and the linked downstream economy. These opportunities lie in afforestation, desertification control, conservation, fire risk management, integrating indigenous practices in forest management, watershed management, improvement in productivity of existing planted forests, agro forestry, urban and peri-urban forestry and skill improvement in the forestry and wood industry. There is also significant employment potential in conservation activities such as the demarcation of boundaries, maintenance of inspection paths and roads and creating and managing nature education centres in protected areas.

What happens next?
The Department of Forestry plans a pilot project located in a highly-forested area of Kanker in Bastar District, where tribal groups predominate. The focus of the pilot will be to test the adaptive practices outlined in the review, implemented through a strengthened and climate-centred version of JFM. The pilot will run for at least two years. It will empower local communities, and sustainability will be built in through sharing the financial returns enjoyed from assets created, especially biodiversity-based assets such as NTFPs, small timber and pastures. Local communities will be enabled increasingly to benefit from sharing arrangements. Federal funding has been leveraged, and will be used to implement these pilots.
Pilots will be replicated using funds from the Department of Forests, and from global sources. ACT is also supporting the Government of Chhattisgarh in the setting up of a Climate Finance Unit that will have the primary objective of targeting global climate change funds. ACT will continue to support this intervention with technical assistance.

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