Involve tribals in forest management: Study

PUNE: Unless viewed from the perspective of Non-Timber Forest Produce (NTFP), forest management and governance will prove to be detrimental to the forests and the life of tribal communities that share a symbiotic relationship with the forests. It is therefore, necessary to involve tribal people in the designing of forest management plans.

This recommendation was a part of a recently-released study conducted by the Maharashtra NTFP forum, a collective of seven organisations spread across the state, working for tribal rights, conservation and regeneration of forests and forest-based livelihoods.

Broadly speaking, NTFP are considered to be any commodity obtained from forests, including nuts, seeds, berries, medicinal plants, fuelwood, foliage, peat and fodder.

Organisations like Maharashtra Arogya Mandal (Pune), Lok Panchayat (Ahmednagar), ECONET (Pune), Gramin Samasya Mukti Trust (Yavatmal), Lok Paryay (Aurangabad), Navi Ummed (Nanded) and Srujan (Yavatmal), were a part of the study. ECONET facilitates the collective and is involved in extending human and institution development, legal and advocacy support.

The baseline study conducted in 14 districts of Maharashtra- Raigad, Thane, Nandurbar, Ratnagiri, Nashik, Ahmednagar, Pune, Satara, Aurangabad, Latur, Amravati, Kinwat-Nanded, Yavatmal and Gadchiroli - covered 1,400 families in 70 typical tribal villages.

Village-level data was gathered to explore the overall situation and the percentage of communities dependent on NTFPs for their food, fodder, rituals and medical needs. Some of the families studied were the nomadic pastoralists and communities with life stock, keeping in mind grass/fodder as one of the main NTFPs.

Krisha Srinivasan, director, law and advocacy programme, ECONET, said NTFPs are the backbone of tribal existence as their culture, food and health security is dependent on them. He drew attention towards the challenge of addressing the alarming rate of alienation of tribal land under the garb of development projects like mining, dams, Special Economic Zones etc.

Executive trustee of ECONET Anuradha Krisha said, "The study could be utilised to claim community forest rights under the Scheduled Tribe and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights Act, 2006) as it captures the interdependence of the tribals-forest relationship."

Social researcher and writer Milind Bokil, underlined the dire need to save forests and other natural wealth from the hands of political leadership and bureaucracy and restore them to the safe hands of tribal communities. "This will result in the democratisation of natural wealth," he remarked.