I am currently working on a project exploring the community management of natural resources. It’s quite interesting to see the way people and cultures evolve design principles that secure not only livelihood but also sustainable use of the resource.
This really comes as no surprise. The ancient people realised that people needed to use resources to secure food and shelter for living.
This remains true even today. At the same time, they realised that they would have to be careful in using these resources, lest they ran out and threatened their survival. It was for this reason that they treated plants and animals sacred, which imbibed in them a sense of responsibility. Examples of such management systems are sacred groves, which are found in many parts of the country.
My grandparents stayed in the Coorg district of Karnataka for forty years. The forests there are still some of the thickest in India. The Coorgies are mostly tribals and are animists. Till today they practice worshipping forests claiming that the spirit of the ancestors rests in the forests. They have designed ways to use the forests efficiently, and have also split the responsibility of keeping guard among families in villages.
For many years the forests of Coorg changed hands of ownership between the forest department and the revenue department. The forests suffered quite a bit from this passing the parcel game, because the forests did not belong to anybody when it came to preservation, but belonged to everybody when it came to using forest products. This is exactly what has happened in many parts of the country. It is this government ownership that has led to the doom of many forests. By making them open access resources, forests are steadily being razed to the ground.
It should be remembered that people who live in and around the forests are the ones who use them and also are the ones best equipped to save them .When governments make forests government property, it creates a feeling of scarcity among these people, who continue to use it, but who no longer have the responsibility to conserve it.
If forests have to be saved, it is time that communities are entrusted with the ownership and management of these forests. That is the only way out.