Towards engaging communities to manage Forest Ecosystem Services sustainably

15 June 2021

By: Dr. Sanjay Tomar, Senior Advisor, GIZ | Aashima Negi, Junior Communication Expert, GIZ

Forests play a crucial role in the livelihoods of people, especially in the Himalayas. They provide numerous benefits; such as fuelwood, timber, fodder, Non-Timber Forest Products (NTFPs), regulating water availability, air purity and local climate. These and many other forests’ benefits – defined as Forest Ecosystem Services (FES) – contribute to human wellbeing.

The extent to which society benefits from an ecosystem is driven jointly by the ecosystem’s capacity to ‘supply’ services and the use of or ‘demand’ for those services by beneficiaries[1]. The demands for specific FES often interfere with each other, as no planning on optimising these services from forests exists. An example of such a conflict is intensive grazing in forest areas which are important for water supply.

The paradigm shift towards FES, provides an unambiguous meniscus to exemplify the role of forests in improving and maintaining livelihoods. Prioritisation of specific FES and management focusing on their efficient supply is required to ensure the flow of services which are of utmost importance to the key stakeholders.

The Himachal Pradesh Forest Ecosystem Services (HP-FES) Project worked with its overarching goal to integrate the FES approach into the forest management systems of H.P. (Figure 1.1)

Figure 1.1: The HP-FES Project demonstration sites

The approach has been implemented with the following component-wise sub-projects for ensuring the long term delivery of specific FES:

Policy and institutionalisation of FES in Forest Management

  • Payment for Ecosystem Services (PES) Policy: P. is the only state that leads India in formulating the PES Policy since 2013, as a step towards addressing the degradation of resources in the state. In a bid to contribute to the policy and its operationalisation, the HP-FES Project, in collaboration with the Himachal Pradesh Forest Department (HPFD) prepared draftrecommendations and operational guidelines which are being reviewed by the Government of H.P.
  • National Working Plan Code, 2014: Solan Forest Divisional Working Plan was taken up to integrate the FES approach, as per the National Working Plan Code, 2014. The methodology for integrating FES approach was implemented by HPFD. The report and the recommendations have been developed and are being reviewed by HPFD. Once this working plan is approved, this model will be replicated in other forest divisional working plans of the state.

Integration and implementation of FES approach in micro plans and working plan

  • Activities as per the micro plans for all 9 project demonstration sites were implemented, expecting to benefit a total population of 7,758 people directly, out of which 3,944 are women beneficiaries.
  • A total area of 18,585 ha was managed through zone wise management under all the micro plans and 1 forest divisional Working Plan, as a contribution of the project.

Designing LTEM system for H.P.

A Long Term Ecological Monitoring (LTEM) system for the state was developed to understand the dynamics of forest ecosystems for developing appropriate management strategies to ensure a sustained flow of ecosystem services. This system has been institutionalised with the Working Plan Division for its sustenance.

Capacity development and knowledge management

Training programmes on the basics of FES approach, assessment of FES for the working plan, LTEM, Monitoring and Evaluation (M&E), forest fire management and nursery raising were conducted for the communities and the front-line staff of HPFD. Virtual workshops on ‘Training Design, Management and Moderation Techniques’ were also organised for the HPFD, state Forest Training Institute (FTI), KfW and Central Academy for State Forest Service (CASFOS) officials.  Livelihood trainings such as pine needle artefact making and their marketing strategy, processing non-timber forest products (NTFPs); trainings related to ecotourism such as solid waste management, homestays management, cooking and kitchen operations and birdwatching were conducted for the community members in the pilot sites. Exposure visits for the HPFD officials to Germany and communities and HPFD officials to Sikkim were organised. A total of 326 community members and 216 HPFD officials have been trained during the project implementation period.

  • HPFD’s current web portal has been upgraded by the project to an interactive and user-friendly information sharing platform by unlocking the potential functionalities of the current website and implementing new features that add value.

Usually, the communities residing in the forest areas have bona fide legitimate rights for timber, fuelwood, fodder and other usufructs, mentioned in the forest settlement reports. As these rights are distributed only at the village level, the number of direct beneficiaries is limited. However, people living further away are also indirectly benefitted from the ecosystem services flowing from these forests, which expects to benefit 20,630 people indirectly. The pilots considered for physical implementation were bound to a few compartments, given the forest rights of the adjacent villages.

People are aware and realise the long-term benefits they could get from forest ecosystems. When people see the project activities being implemented in the area, they are encouraged to take responsibility of protecting and managing the forests’– says Mr Rajeev, member of the Village Forest Development Society (VFDS), Ghanduri

As quoted by one of the beneficiaries, benefits of the project are foreseen as long-term impacts because the results in the increased flow and availability of ecosystem services cannot be perceived in a short span of time. Improved availability of these services is being monitored regularly to ensure future long-term benefits from the project implementation.

The FES approach promotes the sustainable management of forests, ensures conservation of mountain ecosystems and integrates ecosystem and biodiversity values into state and local planning. It not only requires good technical skills in forest ecology and management, but also intensive participation of direct beneficiaries for the long-term impacts of increased flow and availability of ecosystem services.

[1] Beier CM, Caputo J, Groffman P (2015) Measuring ecosystem capacity to provide regulating services: forest removal and recovery at Hubbard Brook (USA). Ecol Appl 25(7):2011–2021 (Article)