Sustainable forest management: insights form a Learning Route in India

By Elisa Mandelli and PROCASUR

Some of the participants of the Learning Route in the Community Conserved Area of the Somdal village (Manipur State) Credit: PROCASUR 2018

The North Eastern Region Community Resource Management Project for Upland Areas (NERCORMP) in India hosted a learning route on “Innovative solutions for rural livelihoods improvement through Sustainable Forest Governance and Natural Resource Management” in Northeast India from the 20th to the 29th of May. The purpose was to promote the dissemination of innovations and good practices on sustainable forest management already being implemented by IFAD-supported projects as well as to highlight the interdependence between forest management, land and natural resource governance and livelihood improvement.

The exercise was co-organized by IFAD’s Land Tenure Desk and PROCASUR under the auspices of the IFAD-Procasur collaboration in the “Strengthening Capacities and tools to scale up and disseminate Innovations” project (2016-2018). Similar learning routes have been organized under the project linking land tenure security and land governance to water rights (see blog Land, Water and irrigation schemes: What can we learn from Senegal and Mauritania?) and to land use conflicts between farmers and livestock keepers (see blog Learning initiative on innovative practices and tools to reduce land use conflicts between farmers and livestock keepers).

It is estimated that over 2.4 billion people worldwide depend on forest goods and services for the direct provision of food, wood fuel, building materials, medicines, employment and cash income, making forests fundamental to the livelihoods of rural and urban people (FAO, State of the World’s Forests, 2014). Moreover, forests which cover approximately one third of the Earth’s surface, are widely known as the world’s largest repository of terrestrial biodiversity, they play a vital role in global climate change mitigation and contribute to soil and water conservation in many fragile ecosystems.

IFAD recognizes the socioeconomic benefits of forests for poor rural people and acknowledges the importance of promoting sustainable forest management as a way to contribute to rural development and food security. Even though forestry is not a prominent topic in IFAD’s operations,   several IFAD-supported projects have integrated community based forest management models in their interventions based on the assumption that rural communities could play a central role in protecting and sustainably managing the forests and the natural resources on which they depend.

NERCORMP is one good example of this and readily volunteered to host the learning route. The project has been supported by IFAD for the two initial phases (from 1999 to 2008) and has currently completed  its third phase funded only by the Government of India. The goal of the project was to improve the livelihood options of economically vulnerable groups by supporting an improved and sustainable management of forests and natural resources and by strengthening local institutions that relate to livelihood development.

15 participants joined the Route from five IFAD-supported projects addressing issues related to  forestry or natural resources management in Bangladesh (CDSP-IV), Kenya (UTANRMP), Peru (MERESE), Sudan (Integrated Carbon sequestration Project), Nepal (Poverty Alleviation Fund) as well as from the Government of the Nagaland State (India).

The Route visited four experiences in the Manipur and Meghalaya regions that illustrated the approach and the positive transformations introduced by NERCORMP and/or promoted by community-led initiatives. The visits focused on the following three dimensions:
a) Community-based forest management as a potential driver for sustainable development and value creation in rural and indigenous peoples’ communities;
b) Forest conservation practices aimed at enhancing biodiversity of forests and generating alternative livelihood solutions for rural and indigenous peoples’ communities from Non-Timber Forest Products (NTFPs) through the involvement of women and youth;
c) Dialogue and convergence between rural communities and government institutions around community conservation initiatives.

Land governance and land tenure (in)security came out as cross-cutting topics influencing the forest conservation practices and the decision-making of the different communities visited. Interesting lessons have also been drawn on the synergies between shifting agriculture and forest conservation as well as on the key role played by religious leaders in generating community awareness and social convergence for sustainable forest governance. 

Based on the experiences and lessons learnt of the Route, the participants are currently finalizing their Innovation Plans for adapting and adopting NERCORMP’s strategies and good practices in the implementation of their own projects.

Additional information on the contents of the Innovation Plans as well as on the analysis of the cases and the lessons learned can be found in this webpage where the Final Report and other briefs of the Learning Route can be found.

The IFAD Land Tenure Desk and Procasur are also planning a final workshop to capitalize and share the lessons learned from all the land-related learning routes supported by the grant.