Ensuring tribal involvement in conservation
By P. Venugopal
Thiruvananthapuram, April 20:
The Forest Department has drawn up a programme for involving tribal communities in the conservation of biodiversity resources of the forests of the State.
Quite a large number of tribal people eke out a living by collecting non-wood products from the forests and selling them in the market. The new programme is meant to ensure that they do this in a sustainable way, without eroding the biodiversity wealth of the forests.
“The programme is based on the new conservation concept which fully acknowledges the rights of the tribal communities over the resources of the forests. These people are the real stakeholders of the forests. The most effective conservation strategy will be to make them actual resource managers",”said Mr. P. N. Unnikrishnan, chief conservator of forests (Eco-Development and Tribal Welfare).
The task of making them ‘resource managers’ is to be accomplished through the setting up of a “tribal forest protection council” in each tribal hamlet within or adjoining the forests. The council will become the mechanism for promoting amongst its members ecologically sustainable practices of exploitation of non-wood resources. The council will also be extended Government incentives for carrying out its responsibilities satisfactorily.
All the grown-up members of a hamlet will be members of this council and it will have an elected governing body, which will be provided with proper guidance by four ex-officio members consisting of the local panchayat member, an official of the Tribal Welfare Department, a voluntary organisation representative and a forest official.
Mr. Unnikrishnan said the range within which the members of a particular hamlet operate will be identified and the resources available in the area would be estimated. For this, the council will get the help of forest officials and experts from institutions like the Kerala Forest Research Institution. A plan will be prepared detailing the extent to which non-wood products can be exploited from the area. And, at least one-third of the range of a particular hamlet would be demarcated as “gene pool conservation zone” to show the resources within that area to flourish undisturbed. On the basis of advice from experts, programmes for replenishing the natural resources of this gene pool conservation zone too would be implemented with the help of the Tribal Forest Protection Council.
Mr. Unnikrishnan said that the Government had also decided to extend to the council an incentive of Rs. 350 per hectare for the area left undisturbed.
Even now, there are cooperative societies of tribal people functioning in most of the tribal hamlets. But these societies are basically institutions promoted by the Department of Tribal Welfare and their objectives are quite different.
Under the new programme, conservation efforts will go hand in hand with initiatives meant for the empowerment of the tribal people. Each of the Tribal Forest Protection Council will be given an operational fund consisting a “trust fund” and incentive fund based on its contributions to the cause of conservation. The account is to be operated jointly by the president of the council and its ex-officio secretary. Money will be released from the operational fund against bills passed by the Divisional Forest Officer having jurisdiction over the region.
“Until recently, forest conservation had meant only protecting the trees. Now we know the immense value of the other resources of the forests. These resources need to be managed properly and the best way to do this is to equip the tribal people, who have a lot of traditional knowledge, for the task,” said Mr. Unnikrishnan.