May 29, 2023
“Now it’s our kingdom”: in India, tribal people regain control of part of the country’s forests

“Now it’s our kingdom”: in India, tribal people regain control of part of the country’s forests

Since 2006, a law gives them the possibility to become co-managers of these natural areas. This has brought new income and jobs to these villages, and above all, has often allowed for better protection of the environment. Report in the state of Maharashtra, in the center of the country.

We are in the forest bordering the small village of Nayakheda, in the state of Maharashtra, in central India. One of the villagers who accompanies us, Ganshyam Nagle, steps out of the way to show us a plant that can heal wounds. It must be boiled and placed on the wound to heal it. Before, the forest guards prevented us from entering here and collecting these plants,” says Ganshyam Nagle. Now this is our forest, our kingdom!”

Everything changed eight years ago for these villagers. Like more than 100,000 villages in India, this community took advantage of a 2006 law called the Forest Rights Act, which allows forest communities to manage their forests, something they were previously prohibited from doing. This responsibility encourages them to maintain the environment. In this village, they have banned destructive grazing, rehabilitated the dam at the reservoir and dug pits in the forest to replenish the water table. The soils have more water and farmers in the area can now have two crops a year instead of one.

Some forests have been overexploited
In a nearby village that has implemented similar measures, a study by the Ashoka Trust for Research in Ecology and the Environment (ATREE) found that in four years, the number of tree species had increased. Tribal people can also harvest leaves and fruits from the forests and sell them, which generates income, creates jobs as guards or gatherers, and thus has stopped the rural exodus.

In India, 6% of the forest area is controlled by tribal people. However, the formula is not magic either: it has worked in this region, because the village leaders have a long-term vision and have succeeded in imposing these rules of environmental preservation. Elsewhere, villagers have overexploited this forest, and it has become degraded. Tribal governance is therefore a good solution for the forest, provided that it is virtuous.