In the midst of the growing momentum around the Forest Rights Act here in the NBR, a group of us took off to visit community groups engaged in community forestry in Orissa. Our discussions on the FRA with the villages had thrown up the opportunities opened up by community rights over forest resources – to both access and govern these. But for many villages here, this possibility seemed to be not just novel but also too good to be true. So we thought it would help to speak to communities who have been governing their village forests.

Vasundhara, a Bhubhaneshwar based NGO working on forestry issues, organized our visits to meet groups in Nayagarh, Sambalpur and Deogarh. Over a week, we met and spoke to the Ma Maninag Jangal Surakhya Parishat, the Banaja Banijya Sangha and the Badrama Vikas Parishat – all community organizations engaged in forest goverance. We listened to stories of how forested hillocks had been rendered barren both by government policy and local negligence. And how villages, in some instances on their own, and in others with adjoining villages had resolved to start protectinng and regenerating their forests for their needs. They also shared with us their systems for mangement, institutionalized over the years – of tenga pali – the rotational system of each household taking up the forest protection beat, of rules for fuelwood collection for daily use and special occassions and of sanctions for transgression of rules.

Our visit to the Sambhalpur coincided with the day, land titles were being distributed under the FRA, in Kuchinda. Here, the Badrama Vikas Parishat talked to us of the experience of tribal communities within a wildlife santuary and of their efforts to reclaim their access to the forests. The Banaja Banijya Sangha shared with us the working of their cooperative enterprise to collectively negotiate for a better price for their rice as well as sal leaves and seeds, that they collected as NTFP.

Back in Bhubhaneshwar, we shared with Vasundhara, our context of forest based livelihoods and the processes of FRA implementation here in the NBR and discussed the processes going on in Orissa. It has been a most envigorating experience for all of us. We are grateful to the communities who have shared with us their experiences and what is possible through collective effort.

Archana 03rd Oct, 2009