“To enhance forest area and livelihood opportunities of the forest dependent people and to conserve biodiversity by undertaking afforestation and biodiversity conservation measures through JFM approach, thereby contributing to environmental conservation and socio-economic development of Rajasthan.’’
(1) Necessity of the Afforestation in the State of Rajasthan
Rajasthan is the driest state in India. Two thirds of its geographical area is covered by Thar Desert, and the state has only 1.16% of the surface water in India. The average rainfall in Rajasthan is 531 mm against the national average of 1,200 mm. In the absence of surface water, reliance on ground water is excessive, and water table is depleting at an alarming rate in most of the area except in canal command area. Due to the severe climatic condition mentioned above, the forest & tree cover of Rajasthan State is only 7.11% (forest cover is 4.69%, and tree cover is 2.42% respectively), which is far below the national average of 23.4%, and the open forest cover out of the total forest is as high as 71.8 %. Furthermore, the state faces a major challenge of desertification due to recurrent drought and increasing human and livestock pressures. Especially in western Rajasthan, desertification is causing wind erosion and deposition, followed by water erosion, as well as water logging and salinity. More than 60% area of western Rajasthan is affected by the desertification and requires intensive management to contain desertification.
Reflecting these severe conditions above, the Government of Rajasthan announced state specific forest policy called “Rajasthan State Forest Policy 2010”, in which the Forest Department sets the target of more than 20% of vegetal cover to achieve and declares to take actions for combating desertification. According to the State Forest Policy, additional 45,000 square km of afforestation and pasture development is the gap to bridge in a reasonable timeframe.
In order to achieve the above-mentioned target with sustainable forest management, people’s participation is indispensable. Forest guards in the State are forced to look after 10 to 15 km2 area as against the ideal norm of 5 to 7 km2, which is unrealistic for the sustainable forest management only by the effort of the Rajasthan Forest Department. Although capacity development of the forest department is continuously undertaken, it is very significant to conduct afforestation activities through the participatory scheme of Joint Forest Management (“JFM”).
(2) Necessity of the Biodiversity Conservation in the State of Rajasthan
Rajasthan State enjoys the richness and uniqueness of biodiversity. It has wide variety of ecosystem ranging from the desert ecosystem in the west of Aravalis to moist deciduous forest in South Rajasthan. There are 2,500 species of plants, 450 species of birds, 50 species of mammals, 20 species of reptiles and 14 species of amphibians besides numerous species of insects, butterflies, micro flora and fauna. Among above, more than 400 species are said to be endemic to the Rajasthan State.
However, the State’s biodiversity resources are under constant threat due to variety of natural and anthropogenic factors such as grazing, mining, direct poaching of wild animals and man-animal conflict. As per the assessment based on the criteria set by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, around 70 species are known to be in endangered in the Rajasthan State.
Furthermore, due to increasing wilderness-human interface and decreasing buffer areas, there is increase of incidents in man-animal conflicts. Many human deaths due to attack by wild animal, killing of domestic animals by wildlife, disturbance into human habitation and farm land are reported every year. As the Rajasthan State Forest Policy 2010 indicates, in order to release biotic pressure and create enabling environment to mitigate man-animal conflicts, it is imperative to undertake various biodiversity conservation improvements in conformity with the approved Management Plan of the area.
(3) Necessity of the Livelihood Improvement in the State of Rajasthan
According to the Census 2001, there are 56.51 million people in Rajasthan, and Scheduled Tribes accounts for 12.6% of the total population. About 75 % of total population lives in rural area, and large number of impoverished people are dependent on forest for their means of livelihood. Loss of forest cover over the decades has led to reduction in incomes and put at risk the means of livelihood for them since forest degradation resulted in scarcity of fuel wood and other minor timber for their personal requirements. Lack of forage in forest has caused the livestock rearing communities either to migrate to faraway places to reduce the size of their herds, even to change to some other means of livelihood.
Taking into consideration that most of rural impoverished population is dependent on forest resources, the threats to forest might be partly attributed to continuous dependency of those people on forest by grazing, illicit cutting of trees and over-use of forest resources. Thus, providing alternative income sources in a participatory manner through Village Forest Protection and Management Committee (VFPMC)/Eco Development Committee (EDC)/Self Help Group (SHG) are required to mitigate biotic pressure on forest and ecosystem, which will result in cutting off the vicious cycle of poverty and natural resource degradation.
(4) Necessity of the Institutional Capacity Development of the Rajasthan Forest Department
Though the institutional capacity of RFD is sufficient to manage and sustain the forestry and biodiversity conservation activities, mechanism such like JFM requires significant change in orientation of the staff to adopt a new role such as facilitator for villages. Furthermore, the Project involves multiple stakeholders and partners, it is vital to build up suitable capabilities at each level. Capacity development as well as the development of hard infrastructure of RFD should be continued to enhance the capacities for addressing forestry and biodiversity conservation. Scientific forest management in terms of organizational set-up and facilities such as Geographical Information System (GIS) should be improved for the protection of natural resources in Rajasthan including not only forest management but also biodiversity conservation.