~ Prachi Thatte
Participation by local communities has long been recognized as a key component of successful biodiversity conservation. The involvement of local communities in biodiversity management can have different purposes: from conflict management, to generating local community support for conservation and introducing local knowledge to management decisions. Participation can lead to positive attitudes of local people towards conservation, their pro-conservation behavior and ultimately positive changes in biodiversity indicators. The social and ecological conservation outcomes of community participation depend on several factors- the level of involvement of local people, their control over management decisions, interests of the local people and other stakeholders and institutional framework. Institutional framework depends on whether the initiative is ‘bottom-up’ - initiated by local people or ‘top-down’- initiated by the government or other external resources. Evaluation of the success of such initiatives is essential to ensure effective participation of communities and sustainable forest management.
In a case study published in the Regional Environmental Change journal in 2016, Biljana Macura and co-authors evaluated whether people’s involvement in forest management and conservation in a Tiger Reserve in India through two state-initiated incentive-based (top-down) interventions had an impact on selected social outcomes. The two participatory interventions evaluated were Joint Forest Management (JFM) and Eco-development (ED). The impact of these interventions on social outcomes were evaluated by measuring conservation knowledge of the local people, their attitudes towards biodiversity as well as trust in and satisfaction with the tiger reserve management authorities. The study was carried out in the buffer zone of Pench Tiger Reserve (PTR) in Madhya Pradesh.
A focus group in progress in a village in Maharashtra. Photo by Shivani Agarwal.
The buffer zone is a mosaic of forest, agriculture and villages with roads crisscrossing throughout the landscape. Most of the villages have a forest patch near them. Both the state run programs, JFM and ED have been implemented in the villages falling in the buffer. JFM is a collaborative arrangement between local people and the forest department to jointly manage the forested areas (state-owned) and share rights and responsibilities. In JFM, locals have some control over resource management; they patrol their assigned forest patch and can punish offenders. In contrast to JFM, ED is designed to reduce the dependence of communities on forests in protected areas and find them alternative sources of livelihood by shifting them away from the forests. Both the JFM and ED operate through committees installed in villages. Apart from executing planning documents and bookkeeping, the committee organizes the meetings with villagers, cooperates with the PTR management during forest fires and informs them about illegal activities. Depending on the funding flow, committees also provide participating villagers with household utensils that could decrease forest dependency (e.g. smokeless stoves, blankets and LPG connections) and village-level infrastructure. In order to evaluate the effectiveness of these participatory interventions, the researchers selected 16 villages located in the PTR buffer zone- 8 which had benefited from JFM and 8 which had benefited from ED. They carried out a questionnaire in 20 households in each of the selected villages. The questionnaire included demographic and socioeconomic characteristics of the household, together with questions regarding (1) perceptions of the ED or JFM project, (2) knowledge of the tiger reserve rules and location, (3) attitudes towards biodiversity and (4) trust in and satisfaction with park authorities. The researchers also collected information about history and functioning of the two projects through 30 qualitative interviews with committee members and PTR staff. Out of the households surveyed by the researchers, 70% had individuals who had been members of at least one of the two committees (JFM or ED) and remaining 30% households had never participated in either of the two. The researchers found that the effects of participation (in either JFM or ED) on conservation knowledge were positive, but negligible. Although participants had higher conservation-related knowledge than non-participants, their overall knowledge levels were very low. For example, only 21% participants and 11% non-participants could define ‘buffer zone’. Researchers suggest that this finding reflects low activity levels of ED and JFM committees. They argue that fully functional committees would have facilitated knowledge exchange between forest department staff and locals leading to increased awareness and trust building. Overall attitude of the communities towards conservation was positive but no significant effect of participation in JFM or ED was found on people’s attitude towards tigers, other wildlife and forests. Trust and satisfaction with the tiger reserve management was also not different between these groups. Although community participation is expected to have positive impact on social and ecological outcomes, this study finds that two participatory initiatives, JFM and ED, did not make a significant difference. Additionally, findings from qualitative interviews suggest that these two projects might even create local conflicts or exacerbate existing social differences due to unequal distribution of benefits. Both JFM and ED are top-down, externally induced conservation initiatives. Such a top-down approach, researchers argue, may not be able to generate local support for the cause and hence does not produce positive results. The villagers often see the ED or JFM committees as one more ‘tool’ for control of forest access and this reflects lack of power sharing between park managers and locals. The researchers argue that this reluctance to share power can be explained with the internal organizational structure and working culture of the park managers. They recommend structural changes and decentralization of the management agency so that strong participatory rhetoric of Indian conservation policies can be translated into practice without organizational and institutional obstacles. Original paper: Biljana Macura, Laura Secco, Elena Pisani, Andrew S. Pullin, Victoria Reyes-Garci. 2016. All that glitters is not gold: the effect of top-down participation on conservation knowledge, attitudes and institutional trust in a Central Indian tiger reserve. Regional Environmental Change. DOI: 10.1007/s10113-016-0978-3. Available at: http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10113-016-0978-3