The role of women in a Joint Forest Management project in Karnataka

WOMEN AND THE ENVIRONMENT: THE ROLE OF WOMEN IN JOINT FOREST MANAGEMENT IN INDIA – A KARNATAKA CASE STUDY: FIONA CHARLTON-HILL  (SEPT.15th 1996) -THE SCHOOL OF ORIENTAL AND AFRICAN STUDIES.

Joint Forest Management (JFM)  

In 1981 a draft  forest bill for draconian controls on access was abandoned in 1982, following mass demonstrations – the Chipko  campaign was cited. The 1988 National Forest Policy adopted conservation measures and focussed on meeting local needs. The success of pilot schemes in West Bengal and Gujerat in improving the quality and area under forest was shown in remote sensing satellite data (Sarin 1995). 

The GO1 order of 1990 which provided for the formation of Village Forest Committees (VFCs) to protect forests said: “Access to forest land and usufruct benefits should be extended only to the beneficiaries who get organised into a village institution, specifically for forest regeneration and protection.” 

To date, 15 state governments have issued resolutions assuring participating villages free access to most non-timber forest products (NFTPs) and a share in the profit from poles and timber, when harvested, in return for forest protection (as specified by the forest department).

There were several adverse effects of Joint Forest Management (JFM) on the participating women. The increased height of trees had resulted in new leaves growing beyond easy reach and affected the production of Sal leaf plates. Leaves from Tendu bushes, used in the production of bidis,  had been shaded too much by the denser tree growth.  

Since 1988 there had been an NGO called the Karwar Rural Women and Children Development Society (KRWCDS) in the village which played an active role in the formation of the Village Forest Committee (VFC). Quarrels between villagers and the Karnataka Forest Department (KFD) over the grazing of animals on forest land – there being 92 cattle used for draught power – were the major impetus behind the institution of Joint Forest Policy Management (JFPM). The Mahila Sangh was formed; the same person being the chair of JFPM, the MS  president and president of the KRWCDS co-operative.

It was decided that women were to be responsible for collecting firewood and fodder leaves. Microplanning included demands for smokeless chulas, safe drinking water, a gobar gas plant, bamboo for fencing, seedlings of a plant which produces a large quantity of green leaves, 21 species of plants and profit  sharing. 

Since the formation of VFCs 26 hectares have been planted. Previously acacia had been cut by Alga Ulga and Sathgeri villagers for firewood and fencing. The guard posted had not prevented this. KFD now pays a watchman and the committee – in groups of five – now watches the forest and the watchman. 

The conclusion was that without a concerted effort to involve women throughout the JFM process it seems unlikely that the level of involvement in Sathgeri could be obtained elsewhere.

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