“Networking Forest Plantations (NETFOP) in a crowded world:
optimising ecosystem services through improved planning and management” is a
research network between Wageningen University and Research (WUR) in the
Netherlands, Freiburg University (FU) in Germany and the Forest Research
Institute (FRI) in Dehra Dun, India. Its objective is to establish an expert
network of these universities on forest planning and management, including
development of methodologies and tools for assessing and optimising forest
ecosystem goods and services.
Having incorporated elements of the MLA approach in the
project document, the project sought CIFOR’s advice on assessing the various
benefits and services of the forests (fuelwood, NTFP’s, biodiversity,
environmental services, recreation, employment), and especially with regard to
assessments of local communities’ perceptions. Secondly, it requested CIFOR’s
help in training the researchers.
The survey was carried out in three different altitudinal
zones on the lower slopes of the Himalaya range. The Forest Department manages
state forests of in the middle and upper zones, with some involvement of village
committees. In the last five years village committees have managed community
plantations established in or near some villages. Pressure on the resources is
high. Most communities are highly dependent on natural resources, have small
agricultural fields and collect fodder and firewood from the forest, while those
close to towns and at lower altitudes also extract products commercially.
The NETFOP project as a whole tried to address many
stakeholders, but the survey discussed here focused on local communities. Within
these, women’s and men’s perceptions were considered separately. A two-week
training and field preparation meeting was held at FRI in Dehra Dun with staff,
graduates and experienced community facilitators from FRI, and MSc students from
WUR and FU teamed-up with Indian participants, to bridge language barriers
during data collection. The group was trained in participatory methods,
interviewing and focus group discussions. The team developed draft
questionnaires about the different ecosystem functions (based on Groot et al.,
2002), in collaboration with local counterparts in India and Wageningen
University. The methods and questions were practised and tested in one of the
villages and subsequently adapted.
The survey work took about 30 days, spread over two months in
six villages. Activities in each village included a community meeting where
participants listed environmental goods and services and prepared a
participatory map, focus group discussions, PDM exercises, a detailed household
survey and interviews with local experts. FRI staff and MSc students analysed
the data, and have prepared a synthesis report to EU office in New Delhi. No
follow-up activities have been planned so far.
This was the first time that local communities were involved
in ecosystem valuation and staff gained several lessons. The time frame set for
the survey was short and did not take into account the needs for villagers to
set the pace. Survey villages were small, and the same community members were
often participating in many hours of interviews and exercises. Women were not
able to participate often, as they have many time-consuming daily tasks. The
biophysical component was carried out in isolation from the participatory value
assessment in terms of teams, locations and timing, which made the MLA
approach’s characteristic integration of data impossible.
The intention to go beyond a qualitative assessment of
environmental goods and services using the PDM and to quantify them was
successful only in part, since many of the regulatory, habitat and cultural
functions are intangible and hard to quantify. Also, people may have been
reluctant to give information about quantities of products taken from the state
forests, as this is officially not allowed.
An economic valuation was carried out by the project’s team
for services provided, mitigation of wind erosion and the forest’s functions as
refugium, nursery, for primary production, nutrient cycling, soil formation and
water cycling. Fodder and firewood are the two most important forest products,
and it would be helpful if the Forest Department would consider more fodder and
fuelwood species for afforestation.
The project’s ultimate intention is to formulate policy
recommendations for improved management of forests both natural and planted. To
foster participation, the Forest Department could make better use of existing,
well-established village organisations like the Van Panchayat, and local
communities would become more committed if they were involved in the design of
projects, rather than only in their implementation.