In-depth (based on site visits with extensive interviews)
- India – New Delhi – Urban Rainwater Harvesting – Rainwater harvesting at Shri Ram School makes it a key player in a widespread movement to address Delhi’s water shortages.
- India – Andhra Pradesh – “Non-Pesticide Management” for Agricultural Pests: Escaping the Pesticide Trap – Controlling pests without chemical pesticides catapults farmers from chronic poisoning and debt to health and hope.
- India – Rajasthan – Water Warriors: Restoring Traditional Earthen Dams for Rainwater Harvesting and Groundwater Replenishment – Revival of traditional rainwater harvesting dams recharges the aquifer, transforming a drought-ridden landscape.
- India – East Calcutta – Making the Most of It: Wastewater, Fishponds, and Agriculture – Municipal wastewater feeds an integrated system of fish ponds and farms.
- India – Bangalore – Upscale Eco-Friendly Housing – A small, upscale neighborhood shows how eco-friendly living is a viable alternative to housing india’s high-tech affluent in unsustainable subdivisions.
- India – Karnataka – A Growing Network of Seed Banks and Organic Farms – A network of seed banks and organic farming projects helps farmers reverse the trend toward extinction of local crop varieties.
Capsule (shorter pieces which appear below)
- India – Auroville – Planned “Eco-City” – Reforestation and other projects create an eco-friendly community, transforming a barren landscape to health and productivity.
- India – Chipko Anti-Logging Resistance – Grassroots action limits logging and its destructive consequences.
- India – Haryana Province – Forest Management – Communal forest management improves erosion control and productivity.
- India – West Bengal – Makaibari Tea Estate – Makaibari Tea Estate simulates a natural ecosystem to enhance sustainability of production.
- India – Rajasthan (and other states) – Ranbathore Craft Center – A vibrant artisan community revives local traditions and creates alternative employment for women in depressed rural regions.
- India – Rajasthan – “Barefoot College” – A village-based program revives traditional wisdom, self-sufficiency and holistic rural development.
- India – Mumbai – Industrial Greenbelt – Reforestation in an industrial area restores soil, water, wildlife and aesthetics.
- India – West Bengal – Joint Forest Management – Cooperation between government and villages prevents overexploitation of their shared resources.
India – Auroville – Planned “Eco-City”
- Author: Amanda Suutari
- Posted: May 2005
Auroville began in the late 1960s as a planned community drawn on some of the ideas of spiritual leader Sri Aurobindo, who ran the Sri Aurobindo Ashram near Pondicherry, India, and a woman known as “Mother.” It has grown into an internationally diverse community of 1,700 scattered about in 100 settlements, and while the community began over 30 years ago, there are plans to design the area into an eco-city with distinct zones.
There was no causal trigger linked to this specific place. The site was chosen in the late 1960s simply because it was close to the Ashram (place of worship). But the poor economic and environmental conditions benefited from the diversity of social and environmental initiatives which began and are still going on today.
The area, which some 200 years ago was densely forested, was by 1968 a barren dust bowl which had been cleared over the years, by farmers, by loggers who exported the wood, and by developers to make the cities of Pondicherry and Kalapet. When early settlers to Auroville arrived, the soil was poor, devoid of trees and other vegetation, and monsoon rains and winds swept tons of topsoil into the Bay of Bengal every year. Local villagers were very poor; many were walking over 2 km daily to find water and their diet was mainly gruel made by millet grown in infertile fields. Some sold their land to Auroville, some began working on the early projects.
Supported by domestic and international foundations, reforestation and trial-and-error water management (through the use of “bunds” – -raised earthen banks to stop runoff of water) began.
Since then over a million trees have been planted with species for various uses: ornamental, timber, fencing, fruit/fodder, nuts.
As trees grew, microclimates formed, attracting animals and birds which have further disseminated seeds and enriched the environment. The Indian government supported some replanting efforts and commissioned a study, in order that results from the project could be shared outside the community. Now “greenworkers” from Auroville are working on other reforestation schemes in India (with Tibetan refugees in Karnataka, tribal areas in Tamil Nadu and a large project in Palani Hills).
Much of the reforestation is in a green belt surrounding the future city area – -this is intended to be a buffer zone to protect it from intrusion of suburbs from Pondicherry.
Other projects include:
- Organic farming, using nitrogen-fixing hedges grown around fields which grow grains, pulses, millets; there are also fruit and nuts, and some wetland cultivation (rice). This, like the forestry, is collectively managed by an international team, including workers from neighboring villages.
- With farming, forestry, and waste management there is a diversity of technique and technology, including solar or wind-fed electric well pumps, desludging of septic tanks (which is processed in pits with co-composting and used in forestry), use of biogas cookers.
- Composting of waste (used in farms).
- Water management techniques such as bunds and check dams (seen on website).
- Various flourishing handicraft industries such as incense making, needlework, leatherwork.
- Medicinal herb forest and institute with training and workshops.
- Educational programs for children in neighboring villages.
- Development, health and social programs aimed at women, children, and the elderly.
- The emphasis is on use of local materials (i.e., bamboo).
- Information technology development and training.
- Seed banks, seed exchange programs.
Services/benefits provided: food/fiber, fresh water, fuel, genetic resources, natural medicines, climate regulation, water regulation, waste treatment, erosion control, water purification, cultural diversity, poverty alleviation, spiritual and religious values, social relations, sense of place, ecotourism, local industry and economy, social welfare, enrichment of quality of life, education.
For more information visit Auroville.
India – Chipko Anti-Logging Resistance
- Author: Amanda Suutari
- Posted: May 2005
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.
India – Haryana Province – Forest Management
- Author: Amanda Suutari
- Posted: May 2005
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.
- Villagers have incentives to protect forests against illegal logging/grazing.
- The agricultural capacity has increased, and soil quality has improved.
- Cottage industries such as baskets and rope made from bhabbar grass or bamboo are flourishing.
- Living conditions have improved, especially for women.
- 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.
India – West Bengal – Makaibari Tea Estate
- Author: Amanda Suutari
- Posted: May 2005
The Makaibari Tea Estate is a 140-year-old family-run estate. Located near Kurseong town in Darjeeling, it is different from neighboring estates in various ways. First, of its 673 hectares, only 274 are under cultivation and the rest is forested.
In the past decade, tea production has suffered due to a decline in soil fertility, overuse of chemicals, and landslides. As well, the forest cover in other estates has dramatically been reduced. But the Makaibari Estate has survived the difficulties suffered by other estates because of the approach and methods used, which are based on the philosophy that forest conservation and tea growing are dependent on each other. While tea in the region is generally grown in monocultures, a series of changes came about in the Makaibari approach from 1945. Mulching began to be used on crops, followed in 1971 by permaculture by owner Raja Banerjee, who then in 1991 began applying principles of biodynamic farming as developed and theorized by Austrian Rudolph Steiner (best known for his theories on education). Taking permaculture a step further, biodynamics stresses “living soil,” and the farm as a living organism. As such, a balance of people, plants and animals is important, as are both visible and invisible cosmic forces (such as lunar and celestial phases, with which harvesting, weeding, planting and fertilizing must coincide).
On the estate, tea bushes are part of a larger subtropical rainforest ecosystem, which includes six tiers of plants, local forests, leguminous permanent shade trees, temporary leguminous shade trees, and finally weeds, creepers and ground vegetation. The forest cover helps to protect the tea leaves (much in the way “shade-grown coffee” is grown). Some grasses and herbs also have medicinal properties and act as natural insect repellents. The leguminous plants increase nitrogen content in the soil, and plant cover checks soil erosion and improves soil fertility through organic “green manure” (dead leaves, twigs and other forest litter). Biogas units provide some energy, and every household makes compost with cow dung and kitchen waste, which is sold to the estate, and preparations of which are made and sprayed on bushes.
The tea estate is home to wildlife such as hornbills and many other species of birds, as well as the leopard and barking deer. On the grounds, some 1,500 people live and work, and are taken care of from birth to death. While the local people are divided into clans and have had a long history of violence, they have managed to work together peacefully without friction.
The estate has won various awards such as the Organic Food Award. Its brands of tea are registered with TransFair International as fair trade products, and the estate is a member of the Joint Forest Management Campaign.
India – Rajasthan (and other states) – Ranbathore Craft Center
- Author: Amanda Suutari
- Posted: May 2005
When the 400-kilometer-square Ranthanbore National Park was created in the arid part of eastern Rajasthan, those living in the reserve were relocated onto marginal land lacking in water, fodder or proper agricultural land. Displaced from their traditional resource-based economy, villagers were driven into casual labor such as agricultural or construction workers breaking rocks or clearing roads on construction sites.
Around this time, a Delhi-based craft society, Dastkar, identified the area as a potential candidate to build up a crafts industry. Dastkar is a society for crafts and artisans, working to improve the economic condition of craftspeople, and to preserve India’s rich and diverse artisanal traditions threatened by social and market forces. Crafts may include pottery, accessories, garments, or home furnishings. Their process includes identifying skills, creating awareness among locals of the skills, then developing with the villagers designs, markets, and ways to invest incomes generated. Through these activities it hopes to market actually useful products (and not encouraging consumption for charity), encouraging use of recycled or locally available goods such as newsprint, scrap paper, rags, cane, wool, or reed. The emphasis on self-sufficiency also prevents the dependence on exploitative “middlemen” through direct sales to customers at its cooperative shop, exhibitions, and bazaars. Its core philosophy is, to quote its website, “to make itself redundant.” Dastkar has also recently gotten a permit to export outside of India. Each year it chooses 8-10 groups to work with, and today works with over 100 groups in most states of India.
When Dastkar began to visit Ranthambore in 1989, locals were skeptical. Dastkar representatives saw the creative potential in the villages from the local artisanal traditions, including the decorative madna paintings on the walls of houses. Part of the initial work was simply motivating women to understand their own potential, and to earn their trust as outsiders to the villagers. When an initial consignment was finally agreed upon, a group of 35 women worked for 10 days to produce an order of various goods, for which they were paid an amount comparable to the equivalent of backbreaking physical construction labor. This served as encouragement and stimulus, and the cooperative began to grow in numbers: by 1991, 18 months after the first project, 75 women were involved, which has grown to 300 people today whose activities range from embroidery to leather, dyeing, pottery, patchwork and block printing. The role of the members has also evolved from making crafts to going to bazaars to run the stalls and interact with visitors, as well as organizing the accounting, marketing, and management.
The Ranthanbore Craft Community Center has since opened, which houses an office, sales outlet, training/workshop center, raw material store, guesthouse and community center. Since the beginning of the project, there has been a noticeable change not only in the level of confidence of the women, with the weakening of purdah (covering of faces and staying at home) but also in the intercaste relationships between Hindu as well as Hindu-Muslim relations. It has also helped to revive and strengthen knowledge of and appreciation for traditional crafts.
For more information visit Dastkar.
India – Rajasthan – “Barefoot College”
- Author: Amanda Suutari
- Posted: May 2005
Popularly known as “Barefoot College,” the Social Work and Research Center (SWRC) is a unique organization located in the Ajmer district of Rajasthan. It conducts multiple projects, aiming to promote traditional wisdom, self-sufficiency and holistic rural development. After seeing a devastating famine that killed thousands of people in the state of Bihar, founder Sanjit Bunker Roy set up the organization in Tilonia village in 1972, with the vision that this should not be in a city run by trained professionals but in the countryside among villages whose knowledge could be tapped to solve some of rural India’s problems.
At that time, Tilonia was typical in the sense that it was suffering many difficulties, such as unemployment, illiteracy, and little access to clean water, health care, or education. Most of all, villagers lacked organization and a sense of their own power – -most were too disenchanted with the petty corruption of village officials and demoralized by poverty to imagine they could change their situation.
The projects began with training to villagers to give them tools to help themselves, which would undermine the mentality that only qualified professionals could help them, as well as revive a sense of pride in traditional knowledge and practices. To date the center has trained two generations of villagers without any formal degrees to become alternative health care workers, solar engineers, hand pump mechanics and teachers. There is a broad range of projects, such as water management and revival of rainwater harvesting, night schools for children busy on the farm by day, health centers, solar power development, environment-friendly, cost-effective housing techniques, income generation and revival of regional artisanal skills combined with fair trade enterprise, community education via traditional media such as puppets and storytelling, women’s development groups, and community action to challenge the misuse of village government funds.
Solar power was first used in 1986 on a large scale to provide energy for the 80,000-square-foot campus, which today is totally self-sufficient in energy. The center has installed solar home lighting systems and produces solar lanterns, which produce a combined 178 kilowatts of solar energy across the country. Health centers are small dispensaries which charge a nominal fee, and provide services which combine “biochemic” and natural medicines, and services for women’s health, family planning, and trained midwives. There are also programs for physically challenged youth, and “mental wellness camps” which provide access to government psychiatrists to patients with mental disorders. There are 150 night schools for children whose farming duties prevent them from attending school during the day, and these are powered by solar lanterns. Teaching aids and learning materials used in the night schools are made from waste materials. Instruction is both formal and practical, for example children may learn about animal husbandry as well as reading and math. A mobile library also visits villages with the goal of encouraging children to read.
There is also the regeneration of waste lands by transplanting drought-resistant seedlings grown in the college nursery, the installation of hand pumps and the desilting of village ponds to recharge groundwater, and these construction projects have provided employment to landless laborers. Traditional media such as puppetry has been instrumental in communicating to semi-literate audiences information about health issues, education and human rights. Income-generation has helped to arrest urban migration, and handicrafts are being sold through well-known fair trade organizations Traidcraft, Friends of Tilonia and Bridgehead. In the early 1990s, a campaign began where villagers were asked questions about how much money was allotted to villages by the government for development, and how much was spent on other purposes. This people’s campaign was for the Right to Information, and public hearings were held to investigate the misappropriation of village funds.
Other women’s development programs developed, with direct action to improve wages, legal rights, and access to family planning. While changes are slow, there has been some progress, for example, in the attitude of local men – -particularly in Rajput, where women are forced into purdah, obligating them to cover their faces and stay inside. Initially hostile to the formation of women’s groups, communities are gradually realizing the women were trying to improve the lives of their families.
To date, 100,000 people in 110 villages spread over 500 square miles now have access to safe water, education, health, and employment. This has been one of the more well-known, successful holistic rural development agencies which has attracted attention from around the country and outside India. There are now 20 Barefoot College field centers (each serving 9 to 35 villages) found in 13 of India’s 26 states. It has 20% financial self-sufficiency, and receives the remainder of its expenses through sponsorships from various UN agencies (UNESCO, UNDP) as well as various departments and agencies of the Indian government.
For more information visit the Barefoot College.
India – Mumbai – Industrial Greenbelt
- Author: Amanda Suutari
- Posted: May 2005
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
India – West Bengal – Joint Forest Management
- Author: Amanda Suutari
- Posted: May 2005
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.