Dependence of Local Communities on Forest Resources: Implications for Protected Area Management in Melghat Tiger Reserve, Maharashtra, India

Azra Musavi

Abstract


This paper discusses the factors responsible for the dependence of local communities on the forest resources of Melghat Tiger Reserve in Maharashtra and possible steps that can be taken to reduce this dependence to make it sustainable. Melghat was declared a Tiger Reserve in 1973 and covers an area of 1597 km2. The area is inhabited by tribals and non-tribals and is under anthropogenic pressures due to extraction of natural resources for subsistence by a large number of people and livestock. There were 61 revenue villages located within the tiger reserve with a human population of more than 25000 and a livestock population of more than 26000. While 69% of the households were tribal households the remaining 31% were non-tribal households, mostly agro-pastoralists. The local people in the protected area had subsistence forest-based economies and were therefore dependent on the forest resources for their sustenance throughout the year. The level and nature of dependence was found to be determined both by the lifestyle of the people as well as the degree of accessibility of the protected area from urban and semi-urban areas. Economic dependence was the result of “lack of alternatives” either due to “non-availability” or due to “lack of purchasing power”. Direct economic dependence of the local communities was for fuel wood, non-timber forest produce (NTFPs), timber, bamboo, water and pasturing of cattle. While the tribals largely practiced subsistence agriculture and mostly worked as labour, the agro-pastoralists were engaged in dairying activities. Socio-economic data were collected through household interviews in villages located within the protected area using open and closed-ended questionnaires. A total of 243 households (>20%) were sampled of which  >50% were tribal households, >70%  were landless, marginal or small landholders, and >80% families owned livestock. The creation of the tiger reserve brought about significant changes in the dimension and equations of dependence. For local communities it translated in loss of economic opportunities and benefits which they traditionally derived. This has resulted in negative attitudes towards the forest department due to increased human-wildlife conflict bringing considerable strain on park-people relationships. Major management issues that need to be addressed are- dependence of local communities resulting in conflicts with the objectives of conservation and negative attitudes of the people towards forest department; inadequate coordination between forest department and district administration and other institutions/agencies working in the area and exploring employment opportunities especially for 8% of the families who are without land and livestock. 

Keywords


Forest Conservation; Local Communities; Alternatives; Economic Opportunities; Attitudes

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