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Protected areas and people: a case study of forest resource use and human impact in the Kalakad-Mundanthurai Tiger Reserve

Protected areas and people: a case study of forest resource use and human impact in the Kalakad-Mundanthurai Tiger Reserve
M. Arjunan


Salim Ali School of Ecology and Environmental Sciences, Pondicherry University, Pondicherry 605 014, INDIA.


In order to see whether the World Bank funded eco-development project has succeeded in reducing impact on the forest, and changed attitudes, I will accept or reject the null hypotheses proposed at the beginning of this thesis.

The first null hypothesis that the human extraction of forest resources had no effect on plant species diversity, basal area and regeneration has to be rejected because I show that the extraction of plant stems, branches and leaves cause decrease in species richness, species diversity, basal area and regeneration in the heavily extracted areas. Forest supply about 50% of the biomass to the studies households. This heavy extraction leads to the degradation and loss of forests.

The second hypothesis that resource extraction is entirely by low income households is also rejected. The dependency on forest products was not only by the low income groups and daily wage workers, but also by the rich landowners who collected fuel-wood for their own use or bought it from the lead loaders at a subsidized rate. Users of fuel-wood from forest had higher incomes than non-users of forest fuel-wood.

The third hypothesis that the attitude of the local population towards conservation and the protected area is not related to resource use is also rejected. I clearly show that the local villages are ambivalent about conservation. Those that are in favour of conservation of the Tiger, a symbol of wildlife protection, are those who do not suffer from crop damage by wildlife. Those in favour of conservation of the Forest are not dependent upon forest resources. Therefore, those that have a resource-use interest in the protected are not in support of conservation. This has not been ameliorated by the World Bank funded eco-development project.

This study has been conducted in a group of villages lying adjacent to the Kalakad-Mundathurai Tiger Reserve, which has been created quite recently. KMTR was created out of two wildlife sanctuaries where the local villagers could graze their livestock, extract forest products and had easy access to these wildlife sanctuaries. When the area was converted to a Tiger Reserve, the protection became more stringent and livestock grazing and access to resources became limited. To offset the impact of these restrictions on the local population, as eco-development project was implemented with funding from World Bank. This project focused on decreasing the dependence of the people on the forest through creating alternative income generating opportunities.

The study on the local villages, the households, and their occupation indicates that these are traditional agriculture based villages. The majority of the land was cultivated, ad availability of water encouraged the cultivation of irrigation dependent crops such as paddy and bananas. Agriculture was the main occupation in this region, and together with agriculture came livestock rearing.

The villages were predominantly comprised of backward and scheduled casts. Literacy was high among the population, although the scheduled casts had the lowest levels of literacy. The schedules castes also had the lowest incomes. The majority of cultivators were predominantly from the backward castes and schedules castes and daily wage workers from the scheduled castes.

The World Bank funded eco-development project has successfully targeted low-income households for loans and other projects. However, this does not seem to have led to the sustainable use of forest resources. Approximately half of the studies households still used fuel-wood from forest sources for cooking and other domestic needs. Although extraction pressure had been gradually decreasing over the years, a considerable amount of fuel-wood and other forest products have been removed from the forest. The study villages used a total of 12.5 tons of fuel-wood in a year, apart from green manure and fodder. I estimated that a household uses about 5 kg of fuel-wood, 4kg of fodder and 0.3 kg of green manure in a day. Estimates by the Forest Department that extraction of forest products has reduced since the implementation of the project needs to be re-examined.

The dependency on forest products was not only by the low income groups and daily wage workers, but also by the richer landowners who collected fuel-wood of their own use or bought it from the lead loaders at a subsidized rate. Fuel wood uses had higher income than the non-users of forest fuel-wood. However, the mean incomes of the fuel-wood collectors, users and sellers differed. Most of the fuel-wood collectors who collected for selling the wood were daily wageworkers from low-income households without alternative means of income generation. Those that collected for their own use were cultivators and the buyers were mostly land-owners and self-employed in small businesses.

There should be tax on the wealthier households using forest products, both directly and indirectly through the poor people who make a living out of collecting these products. An effort should be made to reduce the indirect subsidy to the wealthier households. This will go a long way towards alleviating the pressure on forests. Wealthier households also rent not to change their negative attitudes towards conservation even if they are benefitted by development programmes.

The market factor significantly increased the amount of fuel-wood extracted. Those that collected for sale collected twice as much as wood those that collected for their own use. Scheduled caste households mainly functioned as collectors, users and sellers of forest resources whereas the backward castes were the main users.

Despite the efforts made by the Forest Department to reduce dependency on the forest through eco-development schemes, a considerable quantity of resources, particularly fuel-wood are still being extracted, and this has had an impact on the forest. Although there was a marginal decrease in extraction pressure of the years the forest cover and diversity has been affected. Species richness, species diversity, basal area and height of plant species were lower in the affected areas as compared with the undisturbed forests. There is no regeneration of species extracted by the villagers. This will have a dramatic impact on forest cover and biodiversity in the future, and its capacity to sustain wildlife.

Efforts to grow energy plantations in the wastelands as a measure to reduce the impact of the forest have not been undertaken on a large scale as a part of the eco-development project. This as to be done quickly so that the impact on the forest is gradually lowered and the forest cover can be restored. There also has to be a massive restoration effort undertaken in the degraded dry forests in KMTR and adjoining areas. Restoration can be attempted on a scientific basis using local species and quick growing pioneers. Areas can be designated for extraction and others can be fenced off fir restoration. Species used by the local population can be used for the restoration effort apart from quick growing pioneer species. In this matter, both the needs of the local population can be satisfied, and the forest restored.

The local villagers are ambivalent about conservation. Although most state that they are in favour of conservation of wildlife and of the forests, these directly affected by the creation of the protected area, are either not in favour or not willing to give an option. These in favour of conservation are those who have nothing to lose.

For instance, those in favour of tiger conservation, more women than men, recognized the tiger’s ‘right to live’, those opposed, cited the ban on hunting and crop damage by wildlife, as their two main reasons. Both hunting and farming are gender specific activities and remote from daily concerns of women, men are the hunters and protect crops from wildlife raids. Women are less likely to come into direct contact with wildlife and therefore more likely to be in favour of tiger conservation.

Support for forest conservation is both for abstract and practical reasons. It is a source of fuel-wood and it also ‘brings rain’. Whereas those opposed to forest conservation cite the ban on fuel-wood collection. Women do not support forest conservation because many of the fuel-wood collectors are women and their livelihood is affected by forest conservation.

The Forest Service, a law enforcing mechanism drew the strongest responses. Those against the Forest Service have probably had negative interactions with the FS employees. Women and younger respondents were in favour if the Forest Service, again because these two groups, apart from women collecting fuel-wood, are less likely to come into contact with Forest Service personnel. Those dependent on fuel-wood as the primary means of energy, from the poorer sections of society, were also against the Forest Service.

Those in favour of the Forest Service were those that recognized benefits, and of these ‘tree planting’ garnered almost 50% of the responses. Tree planting along the roads does not give any direct to the household and is along the same lines as ‘the tiger has a right to live’. However, the reasons cited against the Forest Service provide better insight into the minds of the respondents. The largest response (25%) was that the Forest Service has done ‘nothing that benefits me’. Next ws the inability to provide employment. The implementation if the eco-development project has probably changed the image of the Forest Service from that of solely managing the forest to that of a service agency. Local support for conservation might not be sustainable over the long term if the eco-development initiatives are viewed purely in terms of social welfare rather than a participatory effort to conserve the resources. Developing local institutions that can effectively address these problems should be a priority.