Protectors of the Forest: Communities Reverse Land Degradation in Madhya Pradesh

Protectors of the Forest: Communities Reverse Land Degradation in Madhya Pradesh

A UNDP partnership with the Government of Madhya Pradesh, funded by Global Environment Facility has helped in restoring over 14,000 hectares of land, reducing soil erosion and raising the incomes of local communities by as much as 40 percent.

Siya Ram from Chhindwara uses a slingshot to chase away monkeys from the plot of bamboo forest that he is in charge of protecting. Being the protector of this small area has changed his life. Siya Ram’s family is one of many poor tribal families in the central Indian state of Madhya Pradesh who depend on the forests for their daily subsistence.

While forests cover 24 percent of land in the state, deforestation is rampant, and soil erosion is on the rise. Faced with a livelihood crisis, many are forced to travel to nearby cities in search of work.

Between 2010 and 2016, UNDP partnered with the Government of Madhya Pradesh to support local communities in rehabilitating degraded forest, generating sustainable livelihoods and protecting the areas rich ecosystem. The project was supported by the Global Environment Facility.

Each family was allotted 20 hectares of bamboo forest land by the Madhya Pradesh Forest Department and trained by Forest Department officials on how to maintain degraded bamboo forests and conserve soil and water. This proved to be a recipe for success.  

Highlights

  • Between 2010 and 2016, the Government of Madhya Pradesh and UNDP helped in restoring over 14,000 hectares of degraded bamboo forests reducing soil erosion.
  • Incomes of local communities raised by 40 percent.
  • Improved protection and management of forests through greater community involvement.

Local communities themselves decided who amongst them were the most vulnerable, and required this support. Each family was paid a sum of INR 3500 every month to care for the plot allotted to them. Many used the by-products from the harvested bamboo to craft products for sale. More than 700 households have benefitted from this.

In addition to plots for bamboo cultivation, plots were also demarcated in each forest division for families to cultivate fast-growing fuel wood trees, and fodder plants. Families no longer needed to rely on the forest for fuel or fodder, the harvesting of which  often contributes to degradation.

Watershed interventions introduced in these areas such as building loose boulder check structures prevented soil erosion and increased water levels.

In Siya Ram’s village, the impact of the programme is most visible. Villagers collectively cultivate land for harvesting bamboo and help each build check dams. The construction of micro check dams and the installation of pumps has helped in the recharge of groundwater and improved agricultural productivity.

The community-installed and operated sprinkler system, which works without electricity, relying on gravity, has reduced dependency on the rains, allowing the villagers to grow crops through the year.

Such has been the success of the partnership that the Forest Divisions have now leveraged funds from government flagship programmes such as the Rajiv Gandhi Watershed Mission and the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act to extend the watershed initiatives to over 300,000 hectares in the state.

Around 47% of the beneficiaries reportedly observed an improvement in soil fertility during the programme period. Incidents of forest fires and illegal felling of fire wood have also reduced with the community taking charge of protecting the forest cover[1].

In 2014, more than 9,200 bamboo was harvested from Tamia alone contributing an additional income of nearly INR 12,000 to each of the families of forest protectors.

“If we look after the forest, we can live with it in harmony. The extra money has helped me build a new house and buy livestock”, says Siya Ram.

According to Ram Singh, Deputy Ranger, Tamia range, “Community participation and incentives have been key to the success of the initiative and its made sure that even though the project has ended, protecting the forests continues.”

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