Bosques

Las Historias Detalladas (Basados en visitas de campo y entrevistas extensas)

Las Historias Cápsulas

  • China – Provincia Sichuan – Reforestación – La reforestación con acceso local restaura una cuenca degradada.
  • EUA – Hawai (Isla Grande) – Gestión Forestal Sustentable – El Servicio Forestal, Nature Conservancy y compañías privadas cooperan en una empresa forestal sustentable.
  • México – Oaxaca – Reforestación en la Región Mixteca – El Centro para el Desarrollo Integral del Campesino recientemente ganó el Premio Goldman por su éxito reforestando suelos altamente erosionados y rescatando la agricultura sustentable tradicional de la región.
  • México – Michoacán – Reserva Forestal – Una reserva forestal famosa por sus mariposas Monarcas recluta la participación activa de residentes locales previamente escépticos de proyectos conservacionistas.
  • Perú – Amazonas – Cosechando Productos Forestales – La cría de ranas de flecha venenosa genera incentivos económicos para preservar selva amenazada.
  • Indonesia – Parque Nacional Bunaken – Gestión de Recursos Costeros – La restauración de manglares y el cultivo del bambú brindan sustento alternativo y purifican aguas residuales.
  • IndiaResistencia a la Tala en Chipko – Acciones populares limitan la tala y sus consecuencias destructivas.
  • India – Provincia Haryana – Gestion Forestal – La gestión forestal comunitaria mejora el control de la erosión y aumenta la productividad.
  • India – Mumbai – Enverdecimiento Industrial – La reforestación en una zona industrial regenera la tierra, el agua, la vida silvestre y la estética del lugar.
  • India – Bengal Occidental – Gestión Forestal Conjunta – La cooperación entre gobierno y aldea previene la sobre-explotación de sus recursos compartidos.

China – Provincia Sichuan – Reforestación

by Amanda Suutari

The Qiang people live in an area important for its mountain forests, a major source of water for the Yangtze – -what happens here has downstream implications. Deforestation and population growth over four decades has caused forests to shrink by up to 40 percent, and biodiversity has also been lost. As the situation worsened, the government began to recognize the importance of the region and that something had to be done.

In the 1980s, the government funded a reforestation program, and scientists designed the model, but they first investigated the socioeconomic situation. The project relied on indigenous knowledge of the Qiang people – -key in conservation of biodiversity – -and their practices of forest management and home-gardening. Collection of plants for herbal medicines is a major source of income for the Qiang people, and the cultivation of plants was merged with reforestation. This guaranteed participation of farmers, which has in turn increased economic returns on reforestation investment.

Trees are planted in terraces; horizontal bands of original vegetation are alternated with bands of tree seedlings. Indigenous species are preserved in the bands of original vegetation. The practice of alternating bands of new trees with bands of original vegetation creates ideal conditions for medicinal plant cultivation, increases diversity of species in forest stands, and protects against soil erosion from water runoff.

Commonly, reforestation in China involves banning locals from entering forests. If this had been the case, the project would not have been sustainable, because Qiang people traditionally cultivate medicinal plants in common woodlands and around their homes. It focused not only on replanting, but on opening up woodlands to locals – -they may cultivate medicinal plants under the tree canopy as always. Because plants need shade, locals have always understood the need to plant trees first. The planting is supported by project funds, but they finance the cultivation of medicinal plants themselves.

This has also given higher status to medicinal knowledge, which may help ensure its being passed on to future generations.

For more information visit UNESCO.

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EUA – Hawai (Isla Grande) – Gestión Forestal Sustentable

by Amanda Suutari

This project was a collaboration between the US Forest Service (USFS) and The Nature Conservancy (NC), a US-based nonprofit organization that targets near-pristine land and buys it for the purposes of conservation and protection.

The Forest Legacy Program, created in 1978, is a partnership between private landowners, participating states and the USFS to identify and protect environmentally important forests from being converted to “non-forest uses.” It is seen as a cost-effective way to give private owners the means to maintain native forests on their lands. In 1999-2003, the Nature Conservancy began buying forested land in South Kona from private owners, with the intention of helping the Forest Service gain control of the land. The Forest Service then bought what is called an “easement,” (or usage rights, which include restrictions on the way the land is used, to protect it from activities local authorities deem inconsistent with sustainable forest management such as industrial logging, ranching or development of subdivisions), from the Nature Conservancy. As Hawaii is the only state without National Forest Lands, this was the strategy of the Forest Service to offer long-term protection of Hawaii’s important forests. While Forest Legacy Easements have been authorized since 1978, this is the first case in Hawaii.

The NC usually only buys undisturbed land to ensure its continued protection. This area had been severely degraded in places by intensive grazing and logging in the 1950s and 1960s. But it was also considered to be important, both to the local watershed and native species. It was intended to be a good opportunity for the NC to experiment with reforestation, and to explore options for economic revenues through controlled logging and possibly some limited ranching. The koa, for example, is a major canopy tree, providing shade and wind protection to a diverse range of species; the NC will through its work rehabilitating the land decide whether it’s viable or sustainable to log some of the koa and remove it without causing extreme damage to the forest.

It should be noted that this project, and the Nature Conservancy, is not free from controversy. Some critics are fear buying the land will open it up to logging under the guise of “sustainable forestry,'” and that logging of the native koa may not be sustainable. While the NC’s aim is to redirect some of American corporate wealth for conservation on a scale otherwise unachievable, critics say the compromises it has made along the way to its donors have undermined some of its successes, have led to some scandals over lack of disclosure on financial transactions, and that vested interests in the governing board members have silenced it on issues in direct conflict with its stated policies, such as opening the Arctic Wildlife Refuge to drilling.

For more information visit the Nature Conservancy and the Citizen Review.

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México – Oaxaca – Reforestación en la Región Mixteca

por David Nuñez

La región Mixteca de Oaxaca es un páramo con uno de los niveles de erosión más altos del mundo, que afectan al 85% de las tierras, resultando en altos niveles de pobreza. Cerca de una cuarta parte de los hombres jóvenes han abandonado esta región que cuenta con una de las tasas de migración a los Estados Unidos más altas del país.

El problema inició en tiempos de la Colonia, con la introducción de ganado a la zona por parte de  los Españoles. El sobrepastoreo de las cabras en esta zona transformó los bosques en una zona semi-desértica. El problema lo aceleró la llamada Revolución Verde de los 1960s. Aunque al principio la agricultura intensa de monocultivos a base de fertilizantes dio resultados, con el tiempo empobreció aún más la tierra, haciendo necesario cada vez más insumos químicos. Con el desplome de los precios del maíz y demás productos agrícolas a partir de la firma del Tratado de Libre Comercio, muchos pequeños agricultores ya no pudieron costear los gastos necesarios para esta agricultura moderna.

De niño Jesús León Santos tenía que caminar largas horas para encontrar agua y leña. Deseando un futuro distinto para sus hijos, a principios de los 80s comenzó un programa de reforestación basado en técnicas aprendidas de campesinos guatemaltecos. Comenzó simplemente plantando árboles y fue ridiculizado por su comunidad “¿Que no ves que este páramo no da ni espinas?” le decían.

Dos décadas después ha formado el Centro para el Desarrollo Integral del Campesino (CEDICAM) que ha reforestado mas de 1,000 hectáreas en una docena comunidades,  y ganado el Premio Goldman  por sus esfuerzos. Y es que aparte de plantar árboles nativos, CEDICAM ha rescatado muchas de las técnicas ancestrales de la agricultura indígena, entre estas la creación de terrazas para evitar la erosión y la construcción de cientos de kilómetros de zanjas para captar el agua que antes escurría y se perdía. A partir de estos esfuerzos la cosecha se ha aumentado en un 50% y se han recuperado los manantiales que antes estaban secos.

Ahora no hay que ir tan lejos para buscar leña. Se han implementado programas de uso sustentable de leña y de hornos ahorradores de combustible. Con la madera ha renacido también la industria artesanal basada en esta materia. Se han abandonado las semillas genéticamente modificadas y los fertilizantes químicos, rescatando las semillas de variedades locales y el uso de estiércol como abono. Como estrategia de conservación de la tierra, se promueve la milpa tradicional, con su mezcla de maíz, calabaza y frijol en vez de los monocultivos. Se construyen viveros e invernaderos comunitarios, así como cisternas para regar estas instalaciones.

No ha sido fácil. Aun persiste la noción de que las técnicas tradicionales son de ignorantes, y que hace falta modernizarse para ganar prestigio. Y es que como dice el Sr. León “Conocemos más la cultura de Estados Unidos que la de nuestros ancestros”. Es por ello que el CEDICAM también ha iniciado programas de rescate cultural, para inculcar en los jóvenes el valor por lo propio. Por ejemplo, la costumbre del “tequio”, o trabajo comunitario no-remunerado, que ha sido la base de todos estos logros.

Pero quizá el logro más significativo de todos estos esfuerzos lo ejemplifiquen los pájaros. “De niño nunca los escuchábamos, porque no había árboles. Ahora no dejan de cantar en todo el día.”

Para mayores informes visite:

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México – Michoacán – Reserva Forestal

por Amanda Suutari

Este es un buen ejemplo del fracaso de la conservación “desde arriba” y de cómo los lugareños, a pesar de comprender la importancia de su futuro bienestar, pueden no ser capaces de participar en la conservación debido a la pobreza o el resentimiento por ser omitidos del proceso; y de cómo una organización civil puede reconciliar las necesidades de los campesinos con la conservación.

Los bosques de la sierra en el oriente del estado de Michoacán fueron declarados como Reserva de la Biosfera en 1986 para proteger a las mariposas Monarcas, que migran a esta zona desde los Estados Unidos y Canadá cada invierno, y atraen cada vez a más turistas. Pero no se consultó a los 200,000 campesinos que vivían dentro y alrededor de los bosques acerca de la creación de la reserva y las autoridades tuvieron dificultad en protegerla. Estos campesinos viven sin servicios básicos, y con altos niveles de desempleo, lo cual genera una dependencia sobre la tala ilegal dentro de la reserva. Además cosechan madera como leña y materiales de construcción, como siempre lo han hecho, pero ahora esta práctica se ha vuelto insostenible debido a la presión sobre los bosques.

Cuando Alternare, una asociación civil Mexicana dirigida por dos biólogos, arribó en 1998 reconoció que la conservación debía ofrecer un cierto nivel de seguridad a los campesinos para motivarlos a conservar los bosques. Alternare decidió que la única manera de lograr su participación era evaluando sus necesidades para después intentar armonizarlas con la conservación.

Hubo reuniones con ocho poblados, en que Alternare permitió que los aldeanos decidieran que necesitaban. Los pobladores no estaban en contra de la reserva en sí; de hecho comprendían muy bien su dependencia sobre un bosque saludable, y así identificaron los obstáculos a sus necesidades que el gobierno había ignorado al crear la reserva.

Tras determinar sus necesidades y desarrollar una estrategia conjunta, Alternare se comprometió a largo plazo con los habitantes de las zonas más degradadas del bosque y buscó fondos de varios donantes para talleres y apoyo en varias iniciativas:

  1. La diversificación de técnicas agrícolas y de cultivos (aumentando el uso de verduras, ya que previamente vivían de maíz y frijoles). Algunos pobladores también comenzaron a criar abejas y plantas medicinales. Se han producido cinco manuales de agricultura ecológica. Todos estos proyectos utilizaron conocimientos locales sobre técnicas agrícolas y de aprovechamiento forestal.
  2. La construcción de 30,000 metros cuadrados de zanjas y terrazas para mejorar el uso del agua y la tierra.
  3. La introducción de composta para mejorar tanto la fertilidad de la tierra, como la gestión de residuos (previamente los residuos orgánicos eran quemados).
  4. La introducción de hornos más eficientes para reducir demanda de leña sobre los bosques.
  5. La reintroducción de casas de adobe, material tradicional que había sido abandonado. Esto redujo la presión sobre los bosques para materiales de construcción.
  6. La creación de viveros para la reforestación con especies nativas. La meta es plantar 2,000 árboles por año.
  7. La construcción de cercas para evitar que los pollos y demás animales escapen.

Desde el comienzo de este programa, algunos agricultores actúan como capacitadores para difundir estas practicas en sus comunidades, y los pobladores en general dan más apoyo a la conservación, incluso trabajan con las autoridades que alguna vez los excluyeron. Por ejemplo, evitando la tala ilegal.

Beneficios/servicios reestablecidos: Mejor salud (los aldeanos tienen una dieta mas variada y gracias a las estufas ahorradoras sufren menos de los efectos del humo), tierras mejoradas, mayores rendimientos, mejor gestión de residuos, mayores incentivos a la protección de bosques, mayor confianza y participación activa en mejorar su situación.

Para mayores informes visite Television Trust for the Environment.

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Perú – Amazonas – Cosechando Productos Forestales

por Amanda Suutari

Esta es una proyección basada en un exitoso proyecto piloto de crianza de ranas arbóreas en la Amazona Peruana.

Perú es uno de ocho países llamados “mega-biodiversos, que en total poseen el 70% de la biodiversidad mundial. Sin embargo, la industria maderera, la agricultura y el desarrollo de infraestructura están destruyendo hábitat de muchas especies aún por descubrirse. Muchos proyectos de conservación carecen de financiamiento a largo plazo por lo que el ecólogo Rainer Shulte está creando una empresa sustentable basada en la conservación del hábitat de amenazadas ranas venenosas conocidas como “de dardo” o “de punta de flecha”.

Las ranas de punta de flecha son un importante indicador de la salud general del hábitat de las selvas tropicales. También ayudan a regular la población de insectos, incluidos los mosquitos que son vectores de enfermedades. Su veneno es investigado por su potencial tanto para medicamentos como pesticidas naturales, y es un ejemplo importante para el estudio de la evolución y la dispersión de especies.

Las ranas serán criadas por campesinos en 250 lotes de producción que cubren 3,000 hectáreas, la mayoría en zonas de amortiguación de parques nacionales y reservas. Contenedores plásticos servirán de criaderos que serán colocados en el hábitat natural de las ranas, generalmente en selvas tropicales de altura. Los renacuajos serán cosechados de estas botellas, colocados en jaulas y exportados a países donde la demanda por estos animales es alta y pueden lograr precios de 40 a 120 dólares cada una. Dado que su crianza in situ depende de un ecosistema intacto, se espera que el crecimiento de esta industria genere no solo ingresos para los campesinos, sino incentivos para la conservación de la selva. También disuadirá la participación en el mercado negro (el tráfico de especies exóticas es mal vigilado, y culpable de poner en peligro a especies). Otros beneficios incluyen:

  1. La crianza de ranas genera un superávit cosechable que permite mantener intacto el capital (la población original). Este excedente también puede utilizarse para repoblar zonas donde las ranas están desapareciendo.
  2. El método es barato y sencillo.
  3. El proyecto busca vincular con operadores ecoturísticos que ofrezcan recorridos de los sitios, lo cual diversificará las oportunidades económicas.
  4. Los ingresos serán invertidos en especialistas conservacionistas y guardabosques de tiempo completo.

También existen planes a largo plazo, tal como educación ambiental para concienciar y cimentar los beneficios a largo plazo, y capacitación agrícola que promoverá la adopción de métodos de bajo impacto entre los campesinos, en vez de la agricultura trashumante y demás métodos inadecuados a las condiciones locales (particularmente en los altos, ya que los campesinos son inmigrantes de otras zonas y desconocen el terreno). Aunque no puede garantizarse el bienestar de las ranas una vez vendidas, se supone que los clientes aficionados dispuestos a pagar altos precios, invertirán el tiempo y esfuerzo en su cuidado. Además, sabrán que su compra apoya una actividad que ayuda a preservar la selva tropical. El sitio web del proyecto tendrá ligas a sitios sobre el cuidado y alimentación de las ranas y producirá materiales educativos para los compradores. Los métodos de envió serán tales que eviten estresar o lastimar a las ranas. Merece observarse que la propuesta no contempla la posibilidad que las ranas se conviertan en especies invasoras, que es algo que debería estudiarse, dado que el tráfico de especies exóticas ha sido culpable de invasiones de ciertos peces y otras especies.

Beneficios: Incentivos para preservar hábitat, reducción de pobreza, educación.

Para mayores informes visite Global Environment Facility.

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Indonesia – Parque Nacional Bunaken – Gestión de Recursos Costeros

by Amanda Suutari

The site is Bunaken National Park, a series of Islands in Northern Sulawesi Province, Indonesia. This coastal resource management is based on models of mangrove community resource centers in Sri Lanka. With degradation of the mangrove forest in the national park, Yayasan Kelola (a local NGO) and the Mangrove Action Programme joined forces to establish the CCRC (Coastal Communities Resource Center). This is intended as a space for coastal resources protection practitioners to gather for workshops and seminars to promote appropriate technologies and livelihood alternatives for coastal communities, with showcases on the following:

  1. Improved fuel-efficient cookstoves (relying on charcoal from coconut shells, which coconut farmers tend to throw away as waste instead of a resource), which have been found to save 10% of a fishing family’s monthly income that would be normally spent on fuel needs.
  2. Eco-bamboo treatment facility – -this was designed to provide sustainable alternatives and supplements to fishers’ and farmers’ income. Bamboo grows fast and so is easily renewable, and use of this in place of mangroves relieves pressure on mangroves and rainforest. The bamboo is treated by environmentally-benign borax and boric acid which keeps it insect – and rot-resistant. The bamboo has been used in construction of the CCRC and orders are being placed for it already.
  3. Wastewater Gardens – -this is a variation on the theme of phytoremediation (water purification using plants).
  4. A permaculture demonstration.
  5. A showcase of other local materials such as the nyapah palm used for thatch.

The project is in the first phase of a two-phase plan to rehabilitate a disused shrimp pond beside CCRC, by organizing planting by villagers and elementary schoolchildren (the remaining 10 hectares had been unsuccessfully planted three times by local government and forestry department).

Services/benefits recovered: income and economic incentive to preserve a resource, food, fuel, waste treatment, storm protection, water regulation, knowledge systems, education, values, sense of place, ecotourism

It should be noted that this is still a pilot project in the early stages, so the benefits are mostly “potential,” although probably more developments have taken place since the last published report.

For more information visit the Earth Island Journal.

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India – Resistencia a la Tala en Chipko

by Amanda Suutari

This was a defining moment in India’s environmental movement, and a modern application of the Ghandian principle of satyagraha, or nonviolent resistance, which has characterized many later Indian grassroots movements including, for example, protests over the damming of the Narmada River. It has also launched the careers of high profile Indian environmental activists including Vandana Shiva.

While forests are critical for subsistence (food, fuel, fodder, medicinals, materials) to rural communities everywhere, they are especially so to villagers of mountainous regions like the Himalayas, as forests provide valuable stabilizing services to the soil and water. (One of the slogans of the Chipko movement was in fact: “What do forests bear?/Soil, water and pure air.”)

In Uttar Pradesh State, where the Himalayas border Tibet, over the years, the state forestry department had been claiming forested land and leasing it off to commercial loggers; predictably, forest rangers were also parceling off land to contractors in return for bribes.

But the issue was more complex than just big bad loggers and innocent villagers. Although at one time, the communal institutions of villagers fostered careful management of forests, these began to erode after the state took control of forest land. As they felt like forests didn’t belong to them, the incentives to protect them vanished, and so overgrazing and overexploitation was creating a tragedy of forest commons as well.

Commercial logging began to be linked to the floods and landslides which were becoming more frequent and severe. In 1970, monsoon rains caused the Alakhganda River to rise some 20 meters, flooding hundreds of square kilometers, sweeping away homes, an entire village, 5 bridges and a bus laden with 30 passengers, and killing almost 200 people. Afterwards the state bore high costs clearing the state’s many irrigation canals clogged with silt.

Despite the tragedy, logging continued unabated, and in the village of Gopeshwar in the Himalayas, villagers (mostly women, along with children, who are the main gatherers of fuel and fodder), spontaneously began organizing against the companies. Chipko in the local language means “to embrace,” and the women put themselves between the loggers and the marked trees by hugging them. Over the next five years these protests began to spread throughout the districts in Uttar Pradesh, and won a major victory in 1980 when a ten-year ban on logging was declared in the area around the Alakhganda river basin. The movement saved some 100,000 trees, attracted media attention, and helped raise environmental awareness. Groups which have spun off from the original movement are not just blockading but also leading reforestation efforts, and by 1991 a million trees had been planted. They are also developing sustainable forestry operations, as one of the movement’s leaders, Chandi Prasad Bhatt, explained: “[the movement is not saving trees, it’s the judicious use of trees.”

This is also in line with the idea that the forest needs of outsiders (i.e., urban dwellers) are best met if forests are managed by those who live among them.

Services/benefits restored: Forest services, gender and rural empowerment, public awareness. This could be seen as a localized system influencing a larger system.

For more information visit Hug the Trees.

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India – Provincia Haryana – Gestion Forestal

by Amanda Suutari

The Shiwalik Hills are in the foothills of the Himalayas in Haryana State, India. Over the years, the forested hills were in serious decline due to overexploitation, illegal felling, overgrazing, and the resulting erosion of the hills, vegetation loss, and declines in crop yields.

The Department of Forestry, alarmed at the multiple problems in the region, began building check dams and silt retention dams and restricting access to the forest, without much initial success (the state record on forest management is predictably mixed, but in 1990 the government had laid down norms for village involvement in forest land management – -this was the first case the state had addressed since this standard was created). Forced to look for other solutions, it realized that villagers’ basic needs would have to be addressed before they could cooperate with the conservation program, and a system of incentives and exchange was created. Farmers could irrigate their fields with the water supplied from the newly built check dams. With increased yields from the irrigated land, villagers had less reason to graze their livestock on forested land. The system of incentives included moving from a de facto open-access property regime to benefit-sharing from sales of forest products. Water and forest management bodies from the villages began leasing access rights for grazing and for harvesting bhabbar grass and bamboo to villagers, and this ensured their management and protection at the community level.

Some results:

  1. Villagers have incentives to protect forests against illegal logging/grazing.
  2. The agricultural capacity has increased, and soil quality has improved.
  3. Cottage industries such as baskets and rope made from bhabbar grass or bamboo are flourishing.
  4. Living conditions have improved, especially for women.
  5. The project is being replicated in some 60 other sites.

This is a good example of state intervention and its initial failure when it took a top-down approach, and later successes when it developed community-based management.

Benefits/services: food/fodder, economic recovery, incentive to protect a resource, soil erosion control, social relations

For more information visit World Bank.

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India – Mumbai – Enverdecimiento Industrial

by Amanda Suutari

BAIF is a development research foundation which is involved in afforestation and rural development. NOCIL, National Organic Chemicals Industries Ltd., is a chemical company located in an industrial area near New Mumbai in Maharashtra state. The greenbelt project began as a “joint venture” in 1990 between the company and BAIF, which in turn got help from the Forest Department and the Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS), who helped them with land development, soil and water conservation, harvest of water runoff, and choosing tree species suited to local conditions and attracting wildlife. Local people’s participation was also sought for the project, who gave advice on the species of trees to plant as well as help in planting the seedlings.

In the first year, 50 hectares of 35-40 different saplings (which included teak, bamboo and cashew as well as fruit and flowering species) were planted in a section of the Ghansoli hills, and irrigated with effluent from the plant (which had been analyzed for safety). The land was hilly, so trenches were dug in zig zag shapes on the hill contours in order to reduce the speed of run-off. There was also some “gully plugging” to impound monsoon water for two water tanks. In the second year, 55 hectares were planted, followed by the construction of an arboretum. As the trees began to grow, a microclimate developed and wildlife began to return to the area, including wild boar, hyena, panthers, rabbits, snakes and birds. There are 450,000 trees, some of which have grown to four meters high. With a natural waterfall, the arboretum, and two water tanks, the greenbelt also attracted visitors to the area from Bombay, and so some regulation and signs were needed to prevent littering, wandering off trails and other disruptions to the forest or wildlife. As the forest began to grow and bear fruit, local villagers stopped coming to the forest to cut bushes or trees. They have been encouraged to take grasses for fodder, which also protects the forest from fire.

The managers and staff working at the plant were further motivated to improve the cleanliness of the plants’ functioning. One chemical engineer found a way to modify a process in one of the plants so that no trace of heavy metal would remain in the effluent. The environmental division is now able to use all the effluent to irrigate trees on the premises, and now the company has stopped discharging effluent into the Thane creek. The general appearance of the factory has improved and become much cleaner. While this was a management initiative, the response and cooperation from the staff has been spontaneous. The project has sparked interest among other industries to take up similar afforestation projects in the region.

This case shows how the results of initial efforts towards sustainability will provide impetus among staff and management to find further creative solutions to other problems and affect deeper changes. BAIF has also undertaken other greening projects at industrial areas and nuclear power plants. While this is a step toward a new paradigm of industrial efficiency, it’s important to remember that some companies may not go further than this initial step, as the goal may be to improve its image. It’s also questionable that the highly controversial nuclear industry would ever be able to compensate for the dangers it poses to the environment by creating a greenbelt, and the motive to do so may be merely to deflect criticism away from more destructive practices.

For more information visit the BAIF Development Research Foundation and Indian NGOs.

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India – Bengal Occidental – Gestión Forestal Conjunta

by Amanda Suutari

150 kilometers from Calcutta, the Chingra forests of southwest Bengal State are the home of the Munda tribal community. The Chingra forest had at one time been a very rich sal forest, some of which had trees over one meter in diameter. The region had at one time been very sparsely settled, so there was little pressure on the forests other than for roof frames, plows, hand axels, and minor forest products such as mushrooms and medicinals. The forests were shelter for the locals during storms and preserved the watershed.

But from the start of the 20th century, Chingra, like many of India’s forests, fell into decline as they were logged to meet wood demand for sleepers on the country’s growing network of rail lines. Later, after Independence, in the 1960s and 1970s, the Forest Department would contract village labor for logging concessions. As population pressure increased, so did demand for fuelwood for use or sale. In 1981-2 a severe drought caused desperate villagers to cut more fuelwood for income, or to clear new areas for grazing, which caused topsoil loss and other environmental problems that accompany deforestation.

Although the central and state governments have invested billions of dollars in reforestation programs, most have focused on technical solutions like planting trees, which have largely failed in their neglect of the social aspect of forest management. Their trust violated by state forestry departments which took control of formerly commonly managed forests, villagers not only abandoned their forest conservation traditions and overexploited them; as well, they became hostile to any attempts by the state to limit or regulate their use.

Since the 1970s, government efforts to counteract deforestation focused on planting trees on roadsides, village commons, canal banks, or private farms. The purpose was to provide other sources of firewood or fodder to meet local needs so they wouldn’t exploit state forests. But most of these trees were market-oriented species such as eucalyptus, excellent for poles for construction but a poor provider of fuel and fodder. As well, these monocultures did not provide minor forest products, an important source of income, especially for women. As a result, while programs were successful in increasing the commercial timber supply on village land, they failed to address the roots of the problems of overuse of state forests.

In the mid-1980s, a small number of senior foresters became alarmed by the situation and noticed a small, virtually unknown experiment in Arabari, West Bengal. When this project began in 1972, its goals were to find ways to cooperate with villagers over the preservation of a plot of sal trees at its research station. The research was failing because local people were grazing cattle on reserved plots or cutting saplings for fuelwood or sale. One forester, Ajit Banerjee, began meeting with villagers, and after several months of informal talks, Banerjee realized that efforts to save trees had to address poverty. For villagers their only source of income was from the forest, and if they were prevented from entering or using it, an alternate source of income had to be found. Foresters began working out a series of deals with villagers: in return for guarding a section of degraded forest and allowing it to recover, villagers would be either given jobs in agriculture or forestry where possible, or as this proved to be unrealistic, further meetings led to new agreements which guaranteed locals access to minor forest products as well as 25 percent of the timber profits once trees grew back.

Making villagers partners in forest protection and sharing revenue was a new strategy in India and came to be known as Joint Forest Management (JFM). It turned out to be very successful, allowing the forest to regenerate naturally. Allowing degraded forests to regenerate naturally was also cost-effective and practical, because the investment needed was about 5% of the plantation approach. Moreover, it allowed the entire forest ecosystem with all its diversity to grow back – -provided the degradation was not too advanced and there was some biological capital (i.e., stumps and roots were not removed).

The timing was ripe for this success, as other progressive foresters in West Bengal were disillusioned by the failure of its traditionally antagonistic relationship with villagers.

A turning point followed a confrontation between police and local people in another West Bengal District which resulted in three deaths, and several senior foresters began encouraging field staff to follow the Arabari model, and by the mid-1980s there were several similar projects around the state. In 1986 a visionary district forest officer, S. Palit, was elected Conservator of Forests for the southwestern region of the state, and actively promoted JFM. JFM is a collaboration not only with state governments and villagers but also with rural development organizations and other non-governmental organizations. They provide support teams to help design resource development plans and alternate income generation projects.

West Bengal also enjoys political support for this approach, known for having a progressive and populist stance on land reform and other issues. Today, over 1,600 rural communities in southwest Bengal have joined with the government to manage some 200,000 hectares of natural forest, and in one district alone, the forest cover has increased from 11 to 20 percent of the land.

In the case of Chingra, in the early 1980s the forest seemed on the verge of collapse. Alarmed by the degradation, a young Munda tribal named Mahadev Munda Singh was especially disturbed by the failure of a eucalyptus plantation. As the leader of a local youth club, he mobilized a group of young people and in 1984 approached the local forester with an offer to allow them to recreate the plantation and allow them to protect it. As club members realized that guarding the land helped the natural biodiversity of the forest to revive, and encouraged by this they asked for more land to be placed under their protection. Eventually the area extended to 450 hectares, with a promise by the forester to give them a share of the produce and profits.

As the villagers began to realize the benefits of protecting the forest and observing common rules, communities stopped resisting and began supporting the program, and other communities from surrounding regions also formed their own committees. Originally patrolled, the forest is now protected by collective vigilance by villagers, who band together to stop outside intruders from cutting the forest.

As the forest has regenerated, the amount of minor forest products – -and the income from them – -has also increased. People are able to find a larger supply of tubers, mushrooms and other foods from the forest. As well, women are able to make plates from the leaves of sal to sell in the market. This has generated enough income to stop or slow down seasonal migration.

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