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Fostering community development, access to modern energy services and forest conservation for carbon sequestration in India



About 275 million people in India are directly dependent on forest resources and about 100 million live on land classified as public forest (FAO, n.d). Of this about 60% of the people are below poverty line and lack basic amenities including electricity (FRP, 2000). FAO’s studies have documented the interrelations of poverty, forest degradation and low degree of control & power communities dependent on forests have in relation to the State’s control despite joint forest management initiatives. In India Joint Forest Management (JFM) program has resulted in 7% increase in forest cover between 1990 and 2010 (FAO, n.d). However, this increase in forest cover has not necessarily resulted in increase in incomes for communities that are a part of JFM. 

The Indian government has always been in the forefront in formulating policies and designing interventions. However, the country lags when it comes to program implementation & scaling and learning from its previous interventions. The purpose of this project is to address the gaps in JFM programme including land management, control on resources & revenue sharing, and scale-up efforts in providing access to lighting and energy efficient cooking in India’s climate change mitigation efforts. Implementation and evaluation of this project presents policy implications for India and actionable recommendations for other Asian countries such as Nepal, Philippines, Indonesia and Malaysia that have implemented JFM programme or other community forest management programmes. 


What actions do you propose?

Despite the success in increase in forest cover, some of the challenges of JFM and afforestation programme are: 1. In JFM programme, local communities are promised 25% on average revenue from timber sales and rights to collect some forest products. The extent of practicing this agreement and impact of this on economic well-being of communities is unknown. This has resulted in continued conflict between communities and the forest department in a few states resulting in lack of motivation for communities to preserve forest land. 2. JFM has failed in comparison with self-initiated community forest management mainly in Eastern India. While a major source of revenue from forests for the state is timber, preserving biodiversity provides better assurance of livelihood for communities. Not actively including indigenous practices in managing forest land and introducing trees such as Acacia and Eucalyptus in some regions has even resulted in ground water depletion. 3. A majority of the communities living in protected forests do not have access to grid electricity due to policies against permanent structures inside protected forest area and are often dissatisfied or skeptical with the government’s initiatives. Some communities in Western Ghats in Karnataka viewed tree cover as an obstacle to their communities’ development (Information gathered from field visits in 2010-2011). 4. The forest department’s afforestation drive includes planting saplings in LDPE (Low Density Polyethylene) bags in forest land. When the sapling outgrows the plastic bag, the soiled plastic bag remains on the surface preventing humus formation and accelerating surface water run-off. This further exacerbates land degradation and reduces ground water percolation.

To address the gaps and challenges listed in the needs section the following are the proposed activities –

1. The project will begin with engaging the communities and all the stakeholders and will be carried out in 4-6 months in two forest regions in Bhadravati and Mysore districts of Karnataka, a southern state for pilot implementation – a. With representatives from different tribal communities and indigenous groups, MoEF, Indian Council of Forestry Research and Education, Ministry of Tribal Affairs, the Social Welfare Department, and local NGOs and b. With representatives from different tribal communities and indigenous groups, local electricity distribution companies and the local government. This is to ensure that the communities are involved in planning the project and the project includes all components that is important to the communities. The planning phase will also include collecting and documenting indigenous practices of forest management to share best practices within and outside India. Meta-analysis of successful community forest management cases across the world have shown that inclusion of members of all communities, clear communication of benefits and enforcement of regulations are the key factors to social & economic well-being and improvement in forest cover (Yeon-Su.Kim, 2015). Some of the planned/suggested actions may change after discussing with communities on what is most useful to them, consulting with researchers and NGOs on the best ways to utilize the land and manage resources. 

Choosing native trees and plants that have commercial or medicinal value in reforestation drives, for example henna plants, mango trees, kokum trees or Indian gooseberry depending on the type of land and forests. This will be conducted in consultation with NGOs working on ecology and environment and indigenous people. Harvesting agreement will be in alignment with biodiversity conservation both for flora and fauna in the region. We will create market systems by introducing communities to companies that a) source organic products for food (berries, honey, lichens) and cosmetics (Essential oils, carrier oils), b) sell wooden articles domestically c) ecotourism (long-term plan, once the forest is sufficiently rejuvenated). The State government of Karnataka manages jungle lodges and resorts, including indigenous knowledge sharing with tourists as part of the travel experience to create a platform for creating awareness of local cultures, food habits and an avenue for communities to earn additional income. Guided hikes and treks with forest department representatives and tribal communities can also benefit tourists and local communities.

2. Removal of plastic bags from the surface of forest land  – the plastic bags are from both nurseries used in afforestation drive and trash from tourists. There are two parts to this. a. Collection of plastic will be carried out with the help of NGOs and their volunteers, hiring individuals from local communities and paying them a standard daily wage. b. Once majority of plastic is removed from forest lands shipping collected plastic to nearest recycling center and working with the local government to prevent use of plastic bags for planting and enforcing laws preventing tourists from discarding plastic inside forest area are the planned activities. Using biodegradable materials such as cocoon from Land Life Company will also be explored to prevent the use of plastic bags for replanting. For the activity of plastic removal the project will also involve corporates and their social responsibility funds. The timeline for this activity is 8-12 months but will be carried out intermittently depending on availability of people for the activity. The rationale for doing this through CSR is plastic recycling cannot be a source of regular continuous income. Therefore external financial aid is necessary to transition from seedlings in plastic bags to biodegradable. Indian law mandates private companies with over INR 10 billion (approximately US$148 million) to donate 2% of their net profit to charity. We will work with companies with a focus on environmental sustainability as their CSR to implement this part of the project.  

3. Working with local electricity distribution companies and social enterprises on scaling-up distribution of energy efficient cookstoves and solar lanterns. This as multiple studies have already proved will reduce consumption of firewood, reduce indoor air pollution and improve quality of life. In addition replacing kerosene and candle lamps by solar lanterns will also reduce accidental forest fires. From my study for master’s paper I know that human centric design, awareness and distribution channels are major barriers to dissemination of products. For the pilot study timeline for this 8-12  months. Working with social enterprises such as SELCO will be beneficial in completing this activity. The Indian government already has rural electrification programme in place. Our objective is in work with governments and NGOs to meet community needs and understand the relationship between modern energy access and forest conservation not just in terms of energy efficient cookstoves but also in lighting.

Indian government has submitted its Intended Nationally Determined Contribution (INDC), a plan that outlines the country’s proposal to reduce its emissions by 33-35% of its 2005 levels by the year 2030. This Compensatory Afforestation Bill including an investment of estimated $6.2 billion is expected to play a key-role in increasing the forest cover from 21% to 33% of India’s land surface. INDC also includes increasing the share of electricity generation from renewable energy sources (IFLscience, 2016) . Aligning the INDC goals with Ministry of Environment and Forests’ (MoEF) objective to transfer financial benefits of Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation plus (REDD +) in 2017-2018 presents additional opportunities and potential challenges especially since increasing forest cover poses questions on where the land is for more tree plantation – how does this affect communities living in public forest lands, making participatory forest management imperative.

We also plan to include monitoring and evaluation in the project to evaluate the effect of proposed interventions on a regular basis. We will conduct focus group discussions, individual interviews and/or key informant interviews to evaluate progress. 

Who will take these actions?

The key actors for this project are: 

Project participants from the Green Tangent: Dan Sweeney and Shwetha Shivarama and researchers hired from a local organization such as Ashoka Trust for Research in Ecology and the Environment (ATREE) or Forestry Research

Tribal communities and indigenous groups: The community representatives will work from the start of the project to consult at every level. The community will also be involved in afforestation efforts and removal  of plastic bags. 

Ministry of Environment & Forests: Nothing can be done without the support of the forest department. Liaising with the forest department to work with communities is key to this project

Indian Council of Forestry Research and Education: Will be helpful in evaluating the study and providing researchers as field staff

Ministry of Tribal Affairs, the Social Welfare Department, local NGOs: Will provide necessary guidance to implement projects according to local culture and social norms and make sure the project does not do any harm

Local electricity distribution companies and social enterprises in solar off-grid products:These stakeholders will help in implementing the third component of the project - access to modern energy services

Local governments and village panchayats: Will be helpful in connecting with the community, key opinion leaders and making sure that all the regulations are followed in implementing the project

Where will these actions be taken?

The project will be piloted in two forest regions in two districts of a southern state, Karnataka in India. The idea is to choose an evergreen forest area in the biodiversity hotspot of Western Ghats and another in more arid climate with higher forest degradation rate (for example Bhadravati).  We have chosen Karnataka as we have experience in working with stakeholders in the state and it will be faster to implement our project. The relevance of this project however is for all developing countries where there are communities directly dependent on forest produces for livelihood, especially in Asia and Africa. 

How much will emissions be reduced or sequestered vs. business as usual levels?

According to the plan submitted by the Indian government for Intended Nationally Determined Contribution (INDC), the increase in forest cover is expected to reduce the country's emission by 33% of what it was in 2005 by 2030. Successful implementation of the this project will contribute to the country's target of 2.5 billion tonne of carbon sink. 

What are other key benefits?

1. More natural organic produce from the forests

2. More wood and forest produce for indigenous communities, improved livelihoods with better access to market systems

3. Increased eco-tourism with increase in forest cover and biodiversity

4. Less deliberate forest fires and wildlife poaching

5. Increased perception of well-being within communities

What are the proposal’s costs?

The budget for pilot study is estimated at $1,436,630 for 5 years.

Negative side effects of the proposed action could be increased conflict between the most marginalized and other communities within the regions selected for project implementation. Maintaining the balance between harvesting forest products and leaving them for birds, arboreal and other wildlife in forests. Probability of increased conflict between human and wildlife depending on what organizations become key stakeholders at the end of 10 years of project implementation. 


Time line

In the first five years the pilot will be implemented in two districts in India and evaluated to learn what has worked and what has not. By then the Indian government's REDD+ initiatives will have gained momentum and in the 5th and 6th year, the program can be replicated in all the villages and hamlets around one of the biodiversity hotspots in India, Western Ghats. By the 7th year similar efforts can be started in the Himalayan region, another biodiversity hotspot. In 5-10 years fo project implementation, aim is to completely eradicate plastic bags in afforestation programs and use biodegradable material that needs less supervision. By the 15th year we will know the full effect of the program as most fruit bearing trees would have matured and communities will be able to harvest forest produce. 

By the 20 the year this project would have become sustainable on its own since the communities will have gained understanding of how this project works and the forest department would have learned to be more participatory and less didactic with communities around forest area.

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