"We are dealing with attitudes"

The National Tree Growers Cooperative Federation Limited is an organisation devoted to the restoration and protection of the native ecology of the country. The organisation's managing director, VK MISRA, spoke to RAJAT BANERJI about this cooperative movement

Last Updated: Saturday 04 July 2015

On what necessitated the formation of the National Tree Growers Cooperative Federation Limited (NTGCF):
In 1985, the Wasteland Development Board (WDB) was looking for institutional alternatives to the Joint Forest Management (jw) programme. The idea was to establish a cooperative based on the Anand pattern, It envisaged the promotion of social forestry programmes involving the participation of people, a legal format which would help the regeneration of degraded lands.

The won approached the National Dairy Development Board (NDDS) to structure and financially support a tree growers cooperative to green wastelands. While the Anand cooperative movement had proved that people at the grassroots level could succeed in a venture of their own, a surdar scheme to sustain the fuel and fodder needs of village communities was now being sought. A lot of disillusionment surrounded the ino because of its centralised nature. Essentially, an improved version of the jest was being planned.

On how a tree cooperative functions:
Cooperatives are generally encouraged in villages which are singular and compact in composition. This basically means that there are no chances of poaching each others areas. Revenue wastelands of around 40ha are leased to the cooperative for 15-20 years. While the N1 CCF provides the initial structuring and funding, the management of these cooperatives (even financial) is taken over by the people within five years of their establishment.

The members of the cooperative who undertake the afforestation of the wastelands are paid for their tabour. Arul when members wish to collect grass, either as thatch material, fodder or fuetwood, they have to pay the cooperative. We try to encourage the planting of endemic species of trees so that the natural balance is maintained. Once the natural vegetation of these areas gets revived, an immediate increase in wildlife population, levels of the water table and most importantly, a confidence among the people to manage their own affairs, has been observed.

Timber from 20 per cent of the trees grown in this area is used commercially and the returns add to the cooperative's kitty. As against the ust, there is no 'sharing' the benefits with a second party. The fruits of their labour accure only to the local community.

On the difficulties encountered in the formation of cooperatives in general and the NTGCF in particular:
Even though the initiation of the project made the use of land by Ickak legal, they still needed some After alt, tree growing is not a common enterprise. It also calls for a far more difficult commitment than for instance, a milk cooperative would, on the part of the people. Secondly, trees demand lengthy periods of time to attain maturity. Moreover, trees are treated as common property and a joint resource whick do not yield value added products, while something like milk make Is possible a number of by-products.

Also, people in the interiors are suspicious of outside agencies, especially when it concerns the lands near their village. These wastelands were hitherto used for grazing, fuel collection, cultivation, and at times even bootlegging, with families carning Rs 100-1,000 a month from them., Thus, it took some confidence-builifing and persuasion before people'agreed to take part in a scheme that promised them long-term good in return for short-term sacrifice. 'this was an investment the villager had to make.

On whether such a cooperative can be established anywhere on revenue wastelands:
Normally a village with 60-150 households is ideal. Social distinctions such as castes do determine the success of a cooperative, something which is inevitable in the Indian context. This scheme is also being tried in some lesser developed and poverty prone districts. Usually large revenue wastelands are found in such areas.

On the difference between the tree cooperatives and the JFM and the latter's drawbacks:
IFM is not a sustainable programme as the foresters are not able to remain in the background. Also, the terms and conditions are detrimental to conservation because the area is clear felled in 10-15 years. Further, the problem is the distribution of the benefits. For a villager, a tree is harvest-worthy if he or she is in need of timber. But the forest department would chopide tree when its girth has attained the best market value.

On how finances for the project are generated:
Foreign assistance amounting to almost Rs 100 crore and an additional Its 25 crore has been generated. Foreign agencies such as the Swedish International Development Agency and the Canadian International Development Agency provided assistance initially. The NTGGr runs a 3,000 torme neem seed pesticide plain which is a commercial venture; Rs three crore for this Project was sourced from the Canadian money.

On the impact of the project at the grassroots level:
People have responded very well. Wherever cooperatives have sprung up, encroached lands have been handed over to the cooperatives as the encroachers themselves percieve these common lands as being beneficial to alt. This is something that no government or administration has achieved. Even in situations where the encroachet has clung on to the encroached land, resultant social pressure has made them hand these lancLs over to the cooperative. in some places, panchayat lands have been convened into revenue wastelands so that the villages can use their own lands to run the cooperative.

Traditional medicine too has received a shot in the arm as some native plant species have been regenerated. From a tong-term point of view, cooperatives act as a check on fresh encroachment and prevent the doling out of the nation's resources for personal gains.

On the areas that policy-makers should keep in mind while planning social forestry programmes:
lf we have met with such success, why cannot the government promote this as a policy. I truly believe we are dealing with attitudes. We have been successful in convincing people about the concept of decentralised management of resources. The country has plenty of wastelands, and if we have to capitalise on its potential, we need a massive programme which rinds popular support.

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