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Conservation of Common Lands

Between 80 and 100% of people in the region’s rural areas, in particular the poor, are directly dependent on common lands such as forest, pastures and wastelands (ie non-productive land) for their livelihood and cultural practices. They depend on these commons on a daily basis for fodder to feed their livestock, firewood for fuel, and other non-timber forest products (NTFP) for their own consumption and to supplement their meagre income. The lands have immense value economically and socially among locals, and therefore they are often highly contested by different groups and individuals in the community: 30-80% of grazing lands and around 5% of forestland has been encroached. As a result, these valuable natural resources are often exploited for immediate gain without considering the long-term benefits of good land management.

Sadly, progressive policies like Joint Forest Management (JFM), Watershed Guidelines and Forest Rights Act (FRA) have yielded limited results in producing holistic management of forests and essential natural resources in the region. So the need for a community-based management approach is all the more acute to enable communities to use and conserve these resources in an equitable and sustainable manner.

Seva Mandir has been working for three decades on a community-based approach to managing commons which is centred on the principles of inclusiveness, participation and transparency.

Seva Mandir works on commons such as pastures and forest through community institutions like Gram Samuhs (see Sustainable Development) and Forest Protection and Development Committees within the villages, and Van Utthan Sansthan, a federation of such committees in the region. They act as a social force to decide on operational rules and management processes, removing encroachments through persuasion, compensation and incentives, and generating awareness of the benefits of the proper management of these resources.

After the initial preparation is done and the land is freed from encroachment, local people work in tandem with Seva Mandir to plan and implement the development of a pasture, forest or private wasteland. This involves undertaking soil and water conservation work, protecting a site by constructing a boundary wall, planting trees suitable to the ecosystem and residents’ requirements, and putting in place management systems appropriate for the community. Seva Mandir provides technical support in designing the implementation and provides help in preparing a management plan. The community’s contribution in the form of labour and procuring locally available materials plays a crucial role in building ownership and cohesion in the community.

In the case of private lands, owners undertake the management of the work under the supervision of the village committee, and also contribute material and labour directly.         

Work on commons such as forest and pastures acts as a cohesive factor enabling the community to come together and cooperate. The core aspect of environmental conservation is collective action, and we have been able to demonstrate this through our work.


Impact

We have developed and afforested 248 community pastures, 37 Joint Forest Management (JFM) sites and 1,630 wasteland sites, covering 16,350 hectares of land. We have worked to ensure the sites’ sustainability continues, and so far 70-80% of the common lands are well managed.

More than 63,000 families have benefited through this work, with over 120 million trees being planted. These trees have sequestered 300,000 tonnes of carbon (CO2) produced annually, benefited more than 400,000 livestock with access to better quality fodder and improved pastures. There are on average 11 types of tree species in a developed pasture site (Shannon Index: 2.5)

Overall, communities have an annual saving of INR 3,000-4,000 (USD 40-60) per family from access to pastureland for fodder.

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