Community engagement in forest resource protection in Sri Lanka dry zone: A success story

This paper describes the setting, the strategies utilized and the outcome of a pilot community forest protection project implemented in the Sri Lanka Dry Zone. The experiment was executed under a partnership between the Forest Department (FD) and the Sri Lanka Australia Natural Resource Management Project (SLANRMP) resourced by the Australian Aid International Development (AusAID). The purpose of the SLANRMP is to test approaches to community management of natural resources for poverty reduction. A degraded 150 ha forest patch known as Nikawekanda North West Dry Zone was selected. This forest has only about a third of its area under forest cover while the rest is occupied by grass as a result of burning. The forest fire has destroyed the trees and the vegetation every year over the past 2-3 decades. The remaining forest area is under severe threat. The tussock grass cover acts as a trigger to spread fire during the dry months.

Upon identification of the households which would directly benefit from a programme of effective protection of Nikawekanda, the project supported a series of participatory exercises involving both the community as well as the authorities. The process uncovered useful information such as sources of forest fire and the process of destruction, strategies to prevent fire, forest planting and management options, the community benefits from forest protection, community preparations, etc. among others. Subsequently, a strategic action plan prepared entirely through community participation focused not only on the forest management but also on other rural resources and livelihood activities. Small group formation involving all households directly benefiting from the forest resource and formation of a village apex organization were important activities in July 2003. The group members assisted by officials and other facilitators prepared a resource management plan which includes forest protection. The awareness and education activities of the plan resulted in improved awareness about forest fire and the need for fire prevention. The action plan was co-ordinated and managed by a committee representing members from each of the groups.

The most obvious success of the pilot experiment has been the prevention of burning of Nikawekanda through community efforts for the fourth consecutive year. It is likely that community efforts will be continued into the future. The paper also describes the results of community engagement including women actions in fire control and forest management. Based on the outcome produced through community actions as well as its potential sustainability, the paper recognizes the pilot as a success story.

The final section of the paper highlights lessons learned from the success story at Nikawekanda. The multi sector approach focusing forest as well as the management of the entire resource base, providing community support on vital areas of livelihoods, participatory planning and learning approaches throughout the experiment, the employment of seven different methods aimed at forest protection, encouraging small groups and their federation to the village organization and collaborative work relations with all agencies are highlighted. Recognizing that the full benefits of forest management can only be realized in the future, the paper discusses the need for continued community support until such time the village organization is adequately empowered to manage the forest resource in collaboration with FD officials and others.

A Widanapathirana
Joseph Lane, Colombo 04