Nagaland, a Northeastern state with over 8000 square kilometres of forest cover, a state which has been undergoing insurgencies and inter-faith conflicts since independence, a state where agriculture – as the most important economic activity – covers over 70% of the state's economy, and most importantly, a state which celebrates its wildlife.
Mr. Shashidhar Sastry, a retired officer of the Indian Forest Service talks about his experiences as the Principal Chief Conservator of Forests (PCCF) of Nagaland in this two-part interview with Gokul G. K. from our Outreach & Communications team. Here's part one:
1. Could you tell us about your experiences working as PCCF in Nagaland, including major challenges and achievements?
I joined the Nagaland Forest Department in August, 1983. After serving as Assistant Conservator of Forests for almost two years, I was posted as Divisional Forest Officer in the district of Tuensang, which was my first posting as DFO. Subsequently, I held several posts and positions both in the state as well as with the Government of India on deputation, before becoming Chief Wildlife Warden.
Primary Forest Near Kohima
During the period of my service in the state, I have observed transformation not only in the landscape pattern, but also the working conditions, needs of the people and their outlook. The land holding pattern in the state being unique in the country with most of the land ownership vested with community and individuals which includes the forest and its resources. An extent of 88 % of the forest area is owned by communities, this in itself was challenging. This is different from the main stream where the forests and its resources belong to the state. Planning and implementing land based programs and managing the resources differs in both the cases. People of the state depend mainly on land based activities revolving around forestry, agriculture and horticulture. Deriving economic benefit from forest resources (primarily timber and NTFP) was a major activity. Forest department role was monitoring the utilisation of these resources including timber and NTFP in line with the Nagaland Forest Act. Further, to augment the resources through various plantation programs in community and individual lands. Jhum cultivation is a traditional practice and way of life for the Nagas, conversion of large tracts of forests for agriculture was a common feature all over the state. This practice has its own advantages and disadvantages which we will see in subsequent paragraphs. Growing food crops for their consumption in the slopes was a unique practice to begin with and more of a necessity.
Naga villagers collecting firewood from the forests
With the passage of time, and rise in the economic needs of the people, the focus was more on deriving economic benefits from forest resources. Demand for hardwood species from outside the state, led to timber being primary produce to be harvested from the community and individual forests. This coupled with the practice of jhum cultivation resulted in degradation of primary forests. Not only the natural forests disappeared but also the regeneration was affected resulting in once lush green hills with huge trees replaced by grasses and small growths.
However, the silver lining is the interest evinced by the people towards greening their hills through plantation activities. Under various programmes the Department facilitated distribution of seedlings of local species and took up plantation in the community lands and also made the seedlings available to the people. This has been an ongoing activity. Identifying watershed areas and ecologically fragile areas for conservation and planting works was a priority. The state’s hilly terrain (and the slope) was a challenge for the success of the plantation. To nurture the plantations it was a hard task with weeds completely smothering them during the rainy season. However, communities were aware of the need for conservation of the ecologically sensitive areas especially watersheds and even while jhum cultivation; many such areas are kept intact. Efforts were on to integrate jhum cultivation with intercrops in line with the successful model of growing Alder (Alnus nepalensis) along with food crops were taken up in several areas. This was a relatively successful model as trees are nurtured along with crops to enable establishment of these tree crops. Further, communities and individual landowners were interested in plantation of commercial timbers like Teak, Rubber considering the demand and economic benefits.
Community Forest in Dzuleke, Nagaland
With the moratorium on felling of trees as per Hon. Supreme Court order, the felling of trees was restricted and to be done as per the approved working schemes. Timber going outside the state was also regulated. Emphasis was more on conservation and sustainable management of the resources initiated by all the stakeholders especially by the communities and this gave a flip to the community conservation programs. Isolated efforts of Community Conservation programs turned into a network of these by community and individuals. Declaring Community Reserves under Wildlife Protection Act (1972) was the next step which was probably first in the country to get the approval and funding from GOI for areas owned by community and individuals. What started as 3 CRs is today numbering to 117 in the state is a classic example of community involvement in conservation.
Conservation Reserve Area at Changtongya in Nagaland
Another major challenge has been the wildlife protection in the state. With the traditional fondness for bush meat, it was a real task to inculcate the wildlife protection part. It has to be a multi-thronged approach, creating awareness and also legal measures were adopted. An integrated approach of regular meetings with the communities, and conducting raids in the markets, educating them through the zoological garden, have all began to take shape in a positive way though at a slow pace, but surely as reflected in the protection of Amur Falcon, the migratory bird, and the Save Amur Falcon Campaign.
Overall experience in the state both professionally and personally was unique and it gave a totally different exposure and dimension. With Nagaland I was attracted towards orchids and today, I am kept busy by growing and breeding them.
2. What are the major threats to the forests of Nagaland?
There have been certain activities which added to the degradation of forest resources in the state. Before we look into those pressures on the forest resources, let us try to understand the land holding pattern in the state. The state of Nagaland, is primarily a tribal state with rich natural forest resources, and is known for its myriad tribes with rich culture and traditions. It comprises 16 major tribes and numerous other sub-tribes that differ from one another in terms of language, customs, traditions and systems of governance. The state is endowed with rich biodiversity and abundant forest resources. A sizable portion of these natural resources are under the control of the communities and individuals. Village is the most powerful institution in the system and the village community owns and regulates the land and its resources according to their traditional customs and practices.
Jhum area surrounded by vegetation
Out of the total geographical area of 16,579 sq. km., forest occupies 8,629 sq. km., out of which 88.30% of forest is community and individually owned and only 11.70% is owned by the State Government (Department of Forest and Environment). Unlike other regions of India, management of these forests are under the control of the community (guided by Nagaland Forest Act and Jhumland Act.) with much of the forests listed as ‘unclassified’. Indigenous Cultural Institutions (ICIs), such as village councils, chieftainships, and councils of elders have been protecting the forest resources, based on small and homogenous villages that support collective needs and interests. The ownership of the land is either by the village community as a whole or by a clan within the village or by individuals. There are no records for conferring such ownership rights but the individuals rights are exclusively determined by tradition which is also referred to as customary laws. These customary laws are un-codified but are very effective. In the event of any dispute, the traditional village council interprets it. The Forest Departments manages reserve forests, protected forests, wildlife sanctuaries and national parks and botanical gardens.
The day-to-day requirements of people are met by forest resources. This makes the management of these resources not only priority but challenging as well from the point of sustainability. First of all it is the practice of shifting cultivation (Jhum) where the forests are cleared and slash burnt to enable taking up agriculture. Increase in population has resulted in extensive Jhum cultivation at one point of time resulting in dwindling of forest resources both qualitatively and quantitatively. The state has an economy revolving around forests and agriculture with timber and other forest produce which are not only used for bonafide but also to derive economic benefits. Thus, managing these resources in a sustainable manner takes priority as the state. However, sustainable management of these resources are challenging and needs to be addressed taking into account different factors such as, jhum cultivation, and livelihood dependence and economic needs of the people. Further, with the increase in population and extension of agriculture area has resulted in reduction in jhum cycle causing much damage to these resources. To sum it up some of the threats for the forest resources in the state are:
• Jhum cultivation
• Deforestation due to various activities
• Rapid urbanisation
• Natural hazards
• Mining activities
In the next part, Mr. Sastry talks about Jhum cultivation and community forest management in Nagaland.
Read Part 2 here.