Social Ecological Monitoring Survey (SEM) Model

Introduction

SEM Survey Model is an information recording platform for the villagers who live in or near the forest areas. The broader objective of this survey is to make sure that the data from this model can eventually help the villagers in making a variety of management practice decisions regarding the Community Forest Areas (which at times are jointly managed and governed by the communities). This unique model is designed in a way that will enable the villagers to record information about forest usages, institutional processes, and management activities as and when they occur. For ease of users and to make sure informed decision making is possible, we have defined a frequency for recording several aspects, namely:-

 

  1. Product form- Weekly basis
  2. Institutional Form- Monthly basis
  3. Improvement Activities- As and when an activity is undertaken
  4. Protection Activities- As and when an activity is undertaken
  5. Collective Sale- As and when a product is collectively sold by the Gram Sabha
  6. Major Events/Changes in Forests- As and when such an event is occurred

Objective

Our goal of creating such a model is to develop a self-governed technology platform for the community wherein the they can visualize the captured data for their own use as well as identify patterns, which will help them in making effective management decisions. An extremely pivotal information that this tool will capture is the Forest products accessed directly from the forest (apart from products collectively sold by the Gram Sabha). This data is not recorded or available anywhere and, when analysed can help in identifying trends that will help the users to determine their use pattern in terms of the quantity accessed and can pave the way to design new management plans for judicious use of resources. The form will capture unique fields like– the type of product accessed from the forest, quantity, used by households, and sold further in the market.

Similarly, post receiving CFR titles, a lot of the communities undertook several management initiatives for protecting and conserving their forests. It is essential to record these activities pertaining to improvements and protection of forest areas as it will help the community identify the past measures and further improve their management decisions. A small example is – if villagers of a particular village are involved in making a fire line, and they record the details of the activity like man-days, labour cost, duration, etc. then such information will be useful when planning out similar activity for a second time.

Further, this data will be extremely beneficial if and when the community seeks help from any government department or an NGO to fund specific activities like constructing fire lines, soil, and water conservation plans, etc.  At that point, this data can be used as evidence to show previous successful tasks along with the specific details.  Additionally, the database will also help showcase how to post receiving community titles the community has engaged in the improvement and protection activities of their forests.

Moreover, the model also contains an institutional format wherein the community can record the minutes of the Gram Sabha meeting held every month. The interface will allow the users to monitor their institutional activity and periodically keep a record of the community participation, topics discussed, etc. Using the web portal, the users will have the option to compare the information across different states and will be able to adopt and exchange new institutional practices.  Not only does the model captures the sales data that is collectively harvested and sold by the Gram Sabha, but it also allows the community to record any significant changes and events that occur in their forest. This information can be the potential key to understanding the underlying forest conditions.

Field Sites

The project is currently being implemented in 14 villages across the states of Maharashtra and Chhattisgarh. Three interns in three blocks (Korchi and Kurkheda blocks in Gadchiroli district, Maharashtra, and Ambagarhchowki block in Rajnandgao district, Chhattisgarh) are recording the data till the villagers grasp the nuances and become self-sufficient in using the model. These interns, along with the help of the ISB research team and local partners, have identified local leaders who organize a weekly meeting with their respective villagers and enter information regularly. The interns are currently playing a pivotal role in monitoring the information recording process.

Responses from the Field

The response received so far have been varied; for example, in Korchi, Gadchiroli district, Maharashtra, the community has shown a keen interest in the project. The primary reason for this interest is that the Korchi block comprises 86 villages, out of which 76 villages have received CFR titles in the last 2-3 years. The community is inclined towards identifying activities which could help in improving their forest-related usages and management practices. On the contrary, in Ambagarhchowki block, even though the community has received CFR titles; however, they do not have management rights. The villagers in the neighborhood are unaware of their rights and responsibilities. In such cases, we have approached local organizations, who play a crucial role in utilizing the information recorded and plan concrete actions by carefully estimating the resources accessed. In Ambagarhchowki block, our partners, Shrishti, analyzed the data and noticed that in three villages, the community did not access many fruits from their community-managed forests because tree-based fruits were less in number. To increase the fruit supply, Shrishti has now requested the horticulture department to provide 2000 saplings of various fruit-based trees like lemon, mango, gooseberry, jackfruit, among others.

Data Entry and Visualization

The data is currently being entered on the Lenovo tablets provided by the ISB team. The data entered can be downloaded in excel and CSV formats for analysis and visualization. The technical team at ISB is in the process of creating a data visualization portal where the user will be able to create simple by visuals at the click of a mouse. The data portal will provide a platform where people from each site can check/visualize the data of the respective villages as well as compare the data with other villages and states.

Challenges

One of the significant problems to implementing this model was to change the existing perception of the community and to make them understand the broader objectives which can be achieved using the data collected. To overcome this, the ISB research team had to conduct several meetings with the partner organizations/villagers to sensitize them about the project objectives and long-term goals.

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