Forests, fuel and fodder
WELCOME to Sakwa, a small tribal village in Valia taluka in Gujarat's Bharuch district. The population comprises some 473 persons living in 88 houses. And there are about 179 cattleheads: 83 cows, 24 buffaloes and 72 bullocks. In 1988, when the Aga Khan Rural Support Programme-India (AKRSP-I), a nongovernmental organisation working in the area, approached Sakwa, the village appeared bare, and the villagers ignorant about developmental activities. Barren forest wasteland, rain-fed agricultural land and highly undulating terrain forced the villagers to scrounge for food and fodder throughout the year.
After discussions with the villagers, AKRSP-I found low agricultural yields, lack of employment opportunities and acute shortage of fuel and fodder to be the main problems plaguing the village. More than 80 per cent of the villagers migrated to nearby urban areas for employment for a period of two to seven months a year.
Finally, in 1990, thanks to the enthusiasm shown by some of the village leaders for AKRSP-I's programmes culminated in the formation of a village-level organisation called the Gram Vikas Mandal (GVM).
Integrated approach With financial and technical support from AKRSP-I, the GVM launched its afforestation programme under joint forest management (JFM) on 54 hectare (ha) of land in 1989 and 23 ha in 1990. It also undertook soil and water conservation programmes in the form of contour bunding and gully plugging in 1990 on private farm lands. Employment generated through these programmes was sufficient to stop the migration that year. Further, the AKRSP-I started a savings and credit programme linked to agricultural input supply. The villagers started saving some of the money earned from wages. Later, this money was utilised for extending credit to GVM members.
To overcome the problem of fuel-wood, the GVM constructed 47 Dinbandhu model biogas plants. It also planted over 75,000 saplings on private farm boundaries under the farm forestry programme.
After afforesting the forest wasteland, the GVM members started patrolling the area voluntarily on a rotational basis. Continuous protection against the free-grazing cattle and theft by outsiders soon led to a huge growth of grass, planted saplings and coppice of natural species in the village. The GVM was able to harvest 60 tonnes of grass annually till 1995, after which the production of grass reduced due to canopy closure.
By 1995, the 45 ha-forest land, which once wore a bleak look, regenerated into a land with dense tree cover comprising teak, bamboo, khair and many other species.
A vegetation survey conducted by the author in April 1996, revealed the presence of as many as 26 different tree species, five shrub species and four species of grass in the Sakwa forest. The village had about 2,660 trees per hectare. The village afforestation programme indicated a high future growth potential.
In January 1995, the GVM approached the forest department with a request for technical guidance for conducting a pruning operation in the forest. Besides providing better growth conditions and improving grass production, it was expected to result in availability of firewood for the village. A local forester surveyed the area and agreed to help the villagers.
Finally, in April that year, the pruning operation was carried out under the forest department's technical guidance, resulting in a phenomenal 22 tonnes of firewood. Again in May 1996, 50 tonnes of firewood was collected and in February 1998, an additional 60 tonnes was amassed.
"The firewood collected from the pruning operation is sufficient to meet our requirements for the whole year," says Shivbhai Vasava, the secretary of the GVM.
Another advantage of the pruning operation was that grass production from the forest, which came down in 1995 due to canopy closure, went up significantly. In 1997, more than 100 tonnes of grass was collected from the forest by the villagers on a first-come-first-serve basis.
The GVM has a unique system of pruning and distributing firewood. Before starting the pruning operation, most of the villagers come to the forest and offer prayers. This is followed by the distribution of prasad (offering). Pruning operations last four to five days. One member from each household participates in the process. After the execution of the clean-up drive, the entire wood is collected at a place and heaps of almost equal weights are made. The number of heaps are decided according to the number of people who participate in the pruning operation.
To ensure impartiality and transparency in the distribution of firewood, the heaps are given to the villagers on a random basis. Each heap is given a number and as many chits are made. All the chits are mixed and kept in the open. Each participant is asked to pick one chit. And the participant becomes the owner of the heap number mentioned in his chit.
Another rule of the game is that no one can carry home the wood until all the participants have got a chit. About 10 per cent of the wood is kept separate by GVM and is sold to the needy at reasonable rates.
Meeting the needs
According to a study conducted by Ishwar Chaudhary of AKRSP-I in 1998, the cooking energy requirements of the village in terms of firewood was 347 kg per person annually. This translates to 164 tonnes of firewood annually for the entire village. The villagers meet 17 per cent of the cooking energy requirements from agricultural residues; 37 per cent requirements through biogas plants; and 10 per cent of the demand is met from cowdung. The remaining 36 per cent - that is 59 tonnes - is met directly through firewood.
Firewood harvested from the |F,I plot in 1998 was 60 tonnes. Therefore, the village is still left with a surplus of one tonne of wood - a radical change from 1989 when the village women walked four-five kilometres in search of firewood. The situation is expected to improve further when the saplings planted in the farm become ready for pruning.
Similar is the case with the fodder supply situation in the village. The annual fodder requirement in terms of grass is 3.6 tonnes per cow. The village meets 40 per cent of the demand from agricultural residues, 10 per cent from tree leaves and 50 per cent from grass. They have three choices to meet the demand of grass:
Free grazing in the open area or pasture land in the village;
Grass collected from the agricultural field's boundary; and
Grass collected from JFM area.
Until recently, the villagers had just two sources of grass through which they used to meet the entire demand for grass. Availability of additional fodder harvested from the |FM area has made it easier for them to rear hybrid cows. As a result, the villagers have brought more than 40 hybrid cows through the Tribal Sub Plan and other developmental agencies of the area in the last four years.
Another outcome of AKRSP-I's development programme is reflected in the migration pattern. In 1988, more than 80 per cent of the households used to migrate for two to seven months to nearby cities in search of employment. But, in 1997, only 60 per cent of the households migrated, that too for only one to five months.
About 35 villages supported by AKRSP-I are under or in the process of adopting |F-M in Valia and Dediapada laluka of Bharuch district. More than 2,000 ha of forest area is covered under |FM. Interim benefits in terms of grass and firewood to solve the problem of fodder and fuel apart, the villagers, as per the (I-'M guidelines in Gujarat, are entitled to get 50 per cent share from timber and bamboo harvests in the future.
Nand Kishor Agrawal is programme officer (monitoring), Aga Khan Rural Support Programme-India, Bharuch, Gujarat
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