Forest management through community participation in Sri Lanka (with reference to Kurunegala district)

A forest is an area with a high density of trees (or, historically, an area set aside for hunting). Plant communities covering large areas of the globe provide carbon-sink, oxygen-release, habitat, and soil-retention functions. Therefore, Earth’s forests constitute one of the most important aspects of our biosphere.

In response to escalating concerns about the degradation of State-managed forests, developing countries around the world are increasingly promoting decentralization of natural resource management. From the State-centric policies that were promoted in different parts of the world in the mid-20th century, the trend has shifted toward encouraging participatory systems of management by local communities. This shift has been prompted by recognition of the numerous problems associated with consolidating all power in the hands of the State, and of the crucial, hitherto unrecognized, positive role played by local communities-albeit nudged by international shifts in policy.

Isolated islands of forests in Sri Lanka have received the attention of both the state and the people because of their economic importance. Responsibility for forest management has been placed on technically trained officers in the public sector, the objective being to promote state regulation in the efficient management of forest resources. Sri Lanka ’s natural forest cover is now around 31% of the island’s 65,610 sq km, and natural closed canopy forests have dwindled to 22.5 % of the total land area from 44 % in 1956. It is significant that tropical humid forests, which form the natural vegetation type of the island’s ever-wet southwestern quarter, have shrunk to about 9.5% of this region. These forests are also heavily fragmented and few are more than 10,000 ha in extent. Although much of the endemic species among both fauna and flora are concentrated in the wet zone, lowland rain forests of this region comprise about 1.9% of the island’s land area.

This research follows the manner in which State-driven, upwardly accountable, forest decentralization programs play out on the ground, and evaluates their impact on forests and local institutions, a topic of much current concern and debate. In-depth field interviews with the communities provide us with information about the impact of these initiatives on local institutions. Non-wood forest products are important to people for a number of reasons. First, NWFPs are integral to the lifestyle of forest-dependent communities. They fulfill basic requirements, provide gainful employment during lean periods and supplement incomes from agriculture and wage labor. Medicinal plants have an important role in rural health.

The objective of this paper is to explores forest management through community participation to protect the forest in Sri Lanka. Up to now there is no local communities currently function under a situation of constraint, where they have not been delegated responsibilities. It has been collected opinion from hundred families who lives around forest cover in Kurunegala district and 95% of people said that community participation is the best way to manage the forest in Sri Lanka. It can be taken experience from India and Nepal for this program.

H M Nawarathna Banda
Department of Economics, University of Kelaniya, Sri Lanka.