The causal loop examines the impact of community management interventions in forests on wildlife habitat and livelihoods. As users (communities) have a better understanding of forest resources, management interventions at the local level enable site specific solutions. The effects of such decision-making are beneficial for both local livelihoods and wildlife.
Management interventions at the local level facilitate community governance of natural resources. The arrow leading to site specific solutions (‘R2’) is a causal link that represents the direction of the correlation. The polarity assigned to the causal link is positive in this case, i.e. site-specific solutions (the dependent variable for this link) increase (decrease) as local interventions increase (decrease). A positive link means an increase in cause is associated with an increase in effect above that which is normal. Similarly, a decrease in cause is associated with a decrease in effect that is below that which is normal. Site-specific solutions for extraction and regeneration are more efficient leading to natural regeneration of forests when rules are designed by local communities. This, in turn, increases the availability of resources that have an effect on ecology and local livelihoods. As livelihood needs of the communities are met, users are incentivized and encouraged to govern forests efficiently. This loop is called a reinforcing, or a positive loop marked ‘R2’ and the loop identifier circulates in the same direction as the loop.
An example of balancing or negative loop in the diagram is ‘B1’. When site-specific solutions emerge, and forest products are available for extraction for most of the year, there is increased scope for self-employment in forest villages. This means that the overall dependence on the forest has increased. Contrary to what conservationists believe, studies by scholars have shown that increased forest dependence will improve forest conditions as communities will strive for long term availability of forest products, and therefore extract sustainably. As dependence increases, extraction from CFR areas decreases. Note that the link from forest dependence to extraction from CFR areas is marked by a negative link. This means that if the cause (forest dependence) increases, the effect (extraction from CFR forests) decreases and vice-versa. As extraction from CFR forests (cause) decreases, biomass (effect) increases. This balancing or negative loop is marked ‘B1’ and feeds back to livelihood benefits and local governance.
Habitat and Livelihoods
Communities migrate out of their settlements in search of employment during the dry season. Management interventions at the local level are important for generating employment within the settlement, and for increasing the scope of self-employment. Communities engage in Tendu (Diospyros Melanoxin) collection, bamboo harvesting, sale of other NTFPs like Hirda, Behda, Amla and medicinal plants. Around 20 percent of the income from the sale of forest produce is diverted to the village development fund that focuses on improving the condition of forests, livelihoods and overall development of the village.
Management decisions have short-term and long-term implications. In the short-term, restrictions on grazing and harvesting improve ground cover and biomass respectively. These restrictions expedite the natural regeneration of forests and increase rainfall. Fire management reduces the incidence of fire, which also boosts natural regeneration and improves soil quality. Improvement activities like pond deepening, canal building and bunding increase crop cycles and improve ground water table. Likewise, plantations directly impact biomass. Ponds as resource units have multiple stakeholders and deepening of ponds prevents them from drying up. Wildlife numbers increase as ponds are the main source of drinking water in forests. Some villages in Gondia have also invested in pisciculture. Watershed and plantation activities generate employment; a part of the income is diverted to the village development fund. All the above-mentioned management activities have a positive impact on wildlife habitat conditions
Communities exercise management rights only in the forest areas under the gram sabha. It is important to note that the area claimed by these communities is not the same as the area approved by the District Level Committee (DLC). Communities are granted only access rights in areas that are not approved.
As discussed above, management interventions by communities result in strict rule enforcement and monitoring. In order to meet the targets of their management plan in terms of forest protection and improvement, communities over-harvest from the forest area where they have only access rights (non-CFR patch). Since this forest land is under the Forest Department, there is extraction by the government as well. Therefore, without any management rights and only access rights, rules set by the communities are not applicable to the entire forest. Although the condition of forest land under community management has improved significantly, it is offset by overharvesting in other parts of the forest without titles.
External factors like Liquefied petroleum gas (LPG), government driven job schemes, and ban on hunting also impact wildlife habitat condition. After the government introduced LPG at a subsidized price, the dependence on fuelwood reduced significantly. Similarly, as job opportunities are present outside the village, there is lesser dependence on forests for livelihoods during that time period.
In 2005, the Wildlife Department began to strictly enforce the ban on hunting in Gondia. Prior to that, this system was lax, and hunting was common among the communities and the upper class (Patels).
Also, collaboration of the Forest Department with a local NGO incentivized the ban by offering a reward to those who support the forest department in penalizing offenders. This could have improved the wildlife numbers in the area. The presence of wildlife in forest areas bordering settlements has been increasing. In settlements where the CFR area is close to the boundary of the wildlife reserve, communities spot tigers, cheetahs and bears. In settlements further away from the corridor, wild boars, sambhar and deer are commonly spotted. Crop damage by wild boars has increased in the past four to five years. . As hunting is banned, farmers burst fire crackers in the fields to scare the wild boars away. While the ban on hunting improved wildlife numbers in the forest areas with community titles, restrictions on grazing, cutting, pruning and fire have simultaneously increased natural regeneration. Forest conditions have improved and they could potentially improve the corridor connectivity. This is one explanation to suggest that the movement of wildlife in the area has increased.
As wildlife habitat conditions improve, wildlife numbers will also increase. This could increase crop damage and result in decreased livelihood benefits to communities. In the long run, dependence on crops might reduce and make way for a shift towards tree-based livelihoods. . Tree-based livelihoods increase tree cover and species diversity, to diversify product collection and sale.
The availability of fodder in forests will increase as fire management rules will lead to natural regeneration. The livestock numbers and livelihood benefits from livestock will also increase consequentially.
As local governance enables communities to practice trade as an independent body, user awareness of markets will improve, and the management will be better equipped to make informed choices. Engaging users in training activities and exposure visits will also allow for collaborations and exchange of knowledge.
In the long run (represented in the loop by delay marks on the arrow), the overall improvement in wildlife habitat will increase the economic value of natural resources, which again feeds back to improve livelihood benefits.
Since the dependence of communities on forests for livelihoods has also increased, regeneration activities are not focused on improving forest conditions alone.
The role of local NGOs/institutions in helping communities acquire forest rights is central as they provide substantial support and guidance. However, such guidance influences management plans and decision making. Communities’ dependence on forests for diverse products should inadvertently increase landscape diversity. Influence of institutions may divert plantation efforts towards a single and more lucrative species in large patches of community forest land. This may restrict the growth of other local species that communities find useful, thereby enhancing the species’ richness.
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