A quarter of India’s population of over one billion must collect forest products almost daily for household tasks such as cooking, heating and feeding their livestock.
This project was actually launched on a particularly sad event which took place inside the buffer zone of Corbett Tiger Reserve. On the 4th of February 2009, 52 year old Bhagwati Devi of Dhikuli village went inside the forest alone to gather firewood as she probably had done daily for most of her life, and was attacked by a tiger / tigress, later dying of her wounds.
When people are killed by wild animals often the understandable reaction is to take revenge by shooting or indiscriminately poisoning the offending animals, and an anti-conservation sentiment can build up. In the Corbett area this man-animal conflict between people and tigers has led to unnecessary and tragic deaths to both sides already in 2009, so it is undeniable that urgent action needs to be taken.
This projects ultimate goal is to reduce the wood collection of villagers living around the periphery of Corbett Tiger Reserve, in order to reign back the damage being done to the valuable ecosystems of the forests, and as a by-product help to reduce human-animal conflict arising from people regularly entering tiger habitat. The three aims of this project are:
To understand the firewood collection pattern of the concerned villages
|To provide alternatives to the wood collection|
To monitor the alternatives given to see how effective they are
Dependency on the forest for firewood has many negative ecological, environmental and social effects as out lined in the section ‘Major Eco-Issues’.
Much work and research has gone into how to reduce this forest dependency yet tackling such a huge subject such as forest firewood dependency is not easy.
This problem is occurring on a nationwide and international scale and there are often hidden economic and commercial causes other than household subsistence.
Our program takes a two step process to understand and the underlying factors and to assess the viability of alternatives;
• Researchers accompany local women on their rounds in the forest and build friendly relationships with allowing accurate collection of valuable
baseline data and inside knowledge of the activity.
• To work closely with villages by providing sustainable alternatives to firewood to selected households, and monitoring the success of, or resistance to, these alternatives in reducing firewood collection.
The villagers who collect firewood can not be blamed so easily. For most of them, this wood is vital in order to cook the daily meals; they are indeed highly dependant of the forest products. In order to reduce their impact on the forests, the villagers need to be given alternatives.
The right alternative needs to be given to the right villagers, since some are using the wood in their homes whereas some are selling the wood collected in the local market.
Some alternatives for the cooking are:
The smokeless chulah: it keeps the heat produced by the fire inside the chulah, meaning that less wood needs to be used for a certain temperature to remain in. It also takes outside from the house the smoke produced, decreasing the health problem associated with breathing the smoke.
The solar oven: it uses the energy of the sun to cook dishes. It is very eco-friendly since absolutely no firewood is used. There is a high potential for the use of solar cookers in India because the sun exposure remains quite high along the year.
An alternative for the selling of the wood and therefore that would bring a money income to the families is the Lantana furniture making. The idea of this alternative is to use the Lantana camara weed in order to make furniture. This weed is invading a huge area in and around Corbett Tiger Reserve, has a negative effect on wildlife and is almost impossible to control. It is indeed a free raw material and its removing will help the native flora to grow back again.
There is a high density of Lantana along the roads at the periphery of the CTR, which means that villagers will not have to go deep inside the jungle to collect it, helping the limitation of man-animal conflicts.
This alternative is about to be developed in four villages around Corbett Tiger Reserve (Sunderkhal, Ringora, Chhoti Haldwani and Kyari) under a project baptised “WELFARE”, which stands for Women Empowerment through Lantana Furniture, Artefacts and Restoration of the Environment. This project would not only reduce the pressure on the forests but also empower the villagers.
This project is done in association with ATREE (Ashoka Trust for Research in Ecology and the Environment) who will take care of the training of the villagers. This non-profit association is based in Bangalore and has done a very good work in Male Madeshwara Hills by training villagers how to make baskets out of Lantana.
Lantana furniture is strangely not popular yet but it is actually strong and quite long lasting, unlike people can think.