Pitfalls of JFM

Tuesday, January 1, 1980

Experts debunk World Bank report on JFM Tuesday, 02 May , 2006, 12:46

New Delhi: The recent World Bank report, criticising the current Joint Forest Management model for not conceding enough rights and responsibilities to communities has been debunked by experts and officialsof the Ministry of Forest and Environment. They say the assumptions in the WB report have disregarded the ground realities in the country. The JFM concept, envisaging participation of people in forest management, was introduced in the 90s as one of the principal strategies to protect and conserve the natural green cover. Under the programme, communities receive better access to non-timber subsistence forest products and a share of net commercial timber revenues in return for providing improved forest protection.

The World Bank says the current JFM model was heavily tilted in favour of the state forest department. The government staff have strong control over planning, management, investment, harvesting and marketing. According to its study, most of the communities participating in JFM are not able to benefit from the forest products to earn their livelihood. They often view JFM as something imposed which does not take into consideration local institutions, which make use of the local knowledge and work in local cultural context.

Many villagers view JFM as "a top-down non-participatory process" that can aggravate existing social tensions between tribal and non-tribal people. Meaningful participation of communities in the micro planning process is often quite weak, with insufficient regard to people's subsistence on forest requirements and broader developmental needs, according to the report.

However, expert in Forestry like Prof J S Singh of the Benaras Hindu University (BHU) sound a note of caution, saying there were some reservations regarding giving total control at this point in time. "The JFM is still an experiment and we should wait for some more time to see what modifications are needed," he said. Enviornment and Forest Ministry experts say the World Bank has given a "simplistic" analysis without taking into account the complexities of the India conditions. "The situation is not ripe yet for giving total responsibilities of forest management to communities living on them," said a senior official of the Ministry.

The example of the North-East is there to learn from, he said. In the North-East, States barring Assaam, forest land has been under communities from the very beginning. As the region was not administered by the British, there is little forest land under the government. The result has been reckless exploitation by comunities leaving just shrubs in place of forests, he said.