COMMUNITY FORESTS AND INDUSTRIAL SUPPLY CHAINS IN GUJARAT

Communities in Narmada district, Gujarat have collectively sold more than 150,000 tonnes of bamboo to Central Pulp Mills, a unit of JK Paper Ltd., over the last five years, generating a cumulative turnover of over ₹32 Crores. This business opportunity has been made possible through the provision of Community Forest Rights (CFR) titles under the Forest Rights Act, 2006. The 30 communities involved in bamboo sale have undertaken several new initiatives to build on this opportunity, including management for sustainable harvests.

Historically bamboo was harvested directly by the Central Pulp Mills (CPM). After seeking necessary permissions from the Forest Department in 2014, a cluster of 11 communities entered into an agreement with Central Pulp Mills and initiated the process of harvesting bamboo for direct sale. The villagers decided to exclusively harvest only dry and matured bamboo (more than three years old) to ensure sustainability. This locally devised procedure of bamboo management has not only promoted livelihoods but has also contributed towards rapid bamboo regeneration in the forest. These sustained efforts have led to increased productivity with an average yearly sale of 20,512 tonnes of bamboo.

Fig 1 - Area Distribution in Shoolpaneshwar Wildlife Sanctuary
Fig 1 - Area Distribution in Shoolpaneshwar Wildlife Sanctuary

This success of the initial set of 11 communities attracted other villages, and by 2018, nearly 30 communities (out of the total of 62 with CFR Rights) had initiated the process of selling bamboo directly to Central Pulp Mills.

Fig 2 - Bamboo Harvesting Process
Fig 2 - Bamboo Harvesting Process

The villagers typically meet once before each harvest season to decide the wage for harvesting bamboo. In the event of high bamboo stock, people from nearby villages participate in the process of harvesting, for which they are paid a fair wage. The meticulous process of harvesting bamboo is shown in Figure 2.

Bamboo Sale Model:

The villages follow two different models for the sale of bamboo.

Model 1
  • Community signs an agreement with Central Pulp Mills. CPM pays only the royalty amount to the community and deals directly with laborers for the wages.
  • 19 communities follow this method
Model 2
  • Community collaborates with a local NGO to negotiate bulk price for bamboo. CPM pays the entire amount to the communities, who deal with payment of wages.
  • 11 communities follow this method

As shown in Fig – 3, the second model, wherein the communities have negotiated the bulk price, has resulted in consistently better price over the five years.

Fig 3-total price per tonne
Fig 3-Total Price / Tonne

Bamboo Sale:

The villages made a cumulative turnover of 32 crores in 5 years, out of which 64% was paid as wages and the remaining amount constitutes as royalty. Community Forest Resource rights have played a vital role in generating employment opportunities and providing a source of sustainable income, thereby improving the standard of living of the villagers.

Fig 4- Quantum of Benefits
Fig 4- Quantum of Benefits

Conscious Business:

Although bamboo harvest yields considerable economic benefit, the villagers have consciously restrained themselves from harvesting green bamboo. Before every harvest, community members survey the bamboo clumps and count the dry/matured bamboo. Over the years, the Forest Department has held several spot checks and has not found even a single piece of harvested green bamboo.

Social Impact:

The communities regularly invest the funds received from the sale of bamboo into joint resource development activities, deliberated in their monthly meetings and following the terms of agreement with the Forest Department. Some recent examples are:

Fig 5 - Social Impact
Fig 5 - Social Impact

Challenges:

Like any new system, there were a few initial challenges. For example, in the early days, the Forest Department suspected the villagers of cutting green instead of dry bamboo, which was found to be untrue. It took considerable effort for the villagers to build a partnership based on trust. Further, the villagers were concerned about the proper utilization of funds. To ensure confidence in the new system, most communities decided to invest a fraction of the net revenues as a fixed-term deposit. This helped increase the participation of villagers in the process.

Future Management Plans:

A few communities have formulated specific conservation-based management plans for sustainable flow of ecosystem services. These plans include the construction of check-dams, trenches and plantation of new saplings. Several priority activities are being undertaken with the help of revenue generated from the sale of bamboo, whereas, for others, funds from programmes such as MNREGA will be used.

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