Promoting Sustainable Livelihood Practices for Forest Dependent Communities
Therefore, it is important to establish models which demonstrate that local communities and Protected Areas can co-exist while mutually benefitting one another by promoting viable solutions for managing unsustainable resource use and alternative livelihood options to the communities. WWF-India works with local communities living around Protected Areas across the landscapes it works in.
In the corridor surrounding the Satpuda-Maikal Landscape in Central India, WWF-India is working with 8 villages falling in the Dindori district of Madhya Pradesh and Mungeli district of Chhattisgarh. These communities collect Non Timber Forest Produce (NTFP) such as mahua, amla, honey, chiraunji, harra and kendu for household consumption and sale in local markets for livelihood. Existing extraction practices however could pose a risk as these may be unsustainable and could in the future lead to a decline in availability affecting both wildlife and the livelihood of local communities. Moreover, continued and poorly managed human disturbance is likely to degrade forests affecting natural connectivity between crucial wildlife habitat such as the Kanha Tiger Reserve and Achanakmar Tiger Reserve.
An intensive survey was conducted to understand the extent of resource dependency and its impact on the forests and two NTFPs were identified as main resource being collected, i.e. mahua and honey. Subsequently, WWF-India has provided sustainable harvesting solutions for the collection of both these resources.
Honey collection kits were distributed to the honey collectors, which include bee-proof overalls, hand gloves, bucket, ropes, knife, strainer, measuring scale, tin box, locks and containers for storage. These bee proof overalls prevent the collectors from being stung by the bees. As a result, they do not need to resort to the old practice of destroying the honey combs to get to the honey. Now, they cut a small portion of the honey comb, leaving the rest intact which allows the bees to rebuild their comb along with ensuring honey collection twice in a year (pre monsoon and post monsoon).
Originally, communities collected mahua flowers by burning the ground beneath the tree so the dry leaves would burn and the flowers were easily visible. This practice was highly unsustainable and also a major cause of forest fires. To promote sustainable collection of mahua, WWF-India provided nets to be tied above the ground but below the tree branches, which catch the flowers before they hit the ground. This ensures the collection of better quality flowers as they don’t gather dust from the ground nor are trampled by wildlife.
Other support such as providing solar dryers and setting up oil expeller machines in the villages aims to upgrade the quality of NTFP collected, so that the same quantum provides the community with better prices due to improved quality. This ensures their annual income from these sales increases without increasing extraction.
To oversee the implementation and ensure sustainability of these activities, two groups comprising community members have been formed who will be responsible for mainstreaming these sustainable harvesting practices. WWF-India will continue its support to strengthen these village institutions and design new sustainable harvesting protocols to ensure reduced forest dependence of these communities.
WWF-India’s work with local communities in these villages is supported by Canara HSBC Oriental Bank of Commerce Life Insurance.