In parts of Maharashtra, tribal communities, aided by NGOs, are coming together to reclaim their community forest rights. Here’s one such success story.
Globalisation and climate change are two interrelated phenomena that have eroded indigenous communities’ forest rights and traditional forms of livelihoods. The tribal community in Payvihir village in Maharashtra’s Melghat is one of the affected communities that has had to bear the brunt. As a result, large-scale migration to the cities has taken place.
But things began to change when Khoj, an NGO, came into the picture and initiated a community-led participatory process to breathe a fresh lease of life into the forests and the people of the region. Khoj, founded by Purnima Upadhyay, works to make people aware of their rights, encouraging them to take collective action.
According to Upadhyay, the local residents believed that their rights were limited to government facilities like allotting land for anganwadis (child care centres) and health centres. There was less awareness about their rights as a tribal community.
Payvihir received 182 hectares of land under community forest rights granted by the Forest Rights Act of 2006. Since then, the village has been moving towards prosperity.
“People not only learnt about their lawful rights but also realised that the forests that they are fighting for are barely there anymore”, says Upadhyay, adding that the community then got together to think of ways to replenish the forests.
To bring the forests back to life, the community developed and adopted different techniques of building a sustainable ecosystem. “We built small dam-like structures to keep the water from flowing away, and then we planted a special type of grass which grows in Gujarat. This acts as food for the birds and animals,” Amit Sonare, a local resident, explains the importance of a balanced ecological cycle.
“We had no source of livelihood when the forests had become barren, so, people would migrate to the cities to earn. Even children would drop out of school to go work with their parents”, says Luxmi Jagdev.
Meerabai Uttamrao, the village head of Payvihir, explains how they worked to revive the forests and develop sources of livelihood from it. One of the main cash crops they invest in is custard apple. After cultivating and harvesting them, the young and old alike collect them and bring them to the panchayat (village council) where they are packed and taken to markets in cities like Amravati and Nagpur. “Children don’t drop out of school anymore and even the elderly can be taken care of properly”, Uttamrao remarks on the difference the village is seeing after reviving the forest resources.
Part of the income generated from selling the produce goes into a common pool which is then used for maintaining the forests.
For its unique and sustainable model, Payvihir was recognised by the United Nations Development Programme in 2014 and also awarded the Maharashtra Wildlife Service Award of Sanctuary Asia. Another village in Melghat, Kumbhiwagholi, had a similar success story through the efforts of Khoj.
“People are now getting involved in these initiatives more closely, a major reason is that they have access to more information about laws now,” says Upadhyay, adding that such community-led efforts also encourage bodies like the village council to play an active role in the development and conservation of the forest resources.
“We, village residents, did all of this together,” says Uttamrao, emphasising the importance of collective community efforts that are at the heart of the wave of change in Melghat.
Video by Community Correspondent Wamanrao Patil
Article by Alankrita Anand, a member of the VV editorial team