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.

Perceptions of buffer zone villagers on conservation of Knuckles forest range

Conservation measures and policies implemented by the state in the Knuckles forest have traditionally ignored the fact that human survival systems of fringe communities are largely based on resources of the forest. Thus, there is a constant conflict between the interests of the state and those of the peripheral communities. However, there is a growing trend to incorporate communities in forest management through such approaches as JFM and CFM.

The objective of the present study was to determine the perceptions of villagers on the Knuckles Conservation Zone (KCZ) declared in 2000 as the declaration had led to significant changes in the landuse patterns and livelihoods in the buffer zone villages. The study showed that the villagers have a very low level of awareness about KCZ and the policies relating to it. For example, of the 60 activities prohibited in the forest, the villagers could name only six. Villagers could not explain the reasons for the establishment of the KCZ or when it was declared. A significant communication gap exists between the communities and the Forest Department, which in the long run could have detrimental effects on the conservation goals. The usage of most NTFPs has reduced to less than half of what it was before the establishment of KCZ. The community has also lost some land, particularly chena lands to KCZ. With this prohibition, a significant share of their income was lost but no alternative means of income were provided. People have self-adjusted by growing vegetables on paddy lands during Yala. There were mixed responses when people were asked about the specific aspects of the KCZ policy. The changes suggested by villagers focused on reestablishing forest resource use patterns similar to what they enjoyed before the establishment of KCZ. However, what is most significant is that they all support the conservation of the forest.

Although, the Forest Department and the peripheral communities agree on conserving the Knuckles forest, there is no effective mechanism yet in place to include the communities in the conservation of the KCZ. As forest conservation in the long run depends on the active cooperation of the society in general and peripheral communities in particular as evident from other parts of the world and in Sri Lanka, a strong case can be made for the initiation of a joint approach to the management of KCZ including all stakeholders among whom the buffer zone villagers play a significant role.

M C M Perera1, G Hitinayake1 and S K Hennayake2,
1Faculty of Agriculture, University of Peradeniya, Peradeniya, Sri Lanka.
2The World Conservation Union, Sri Lanka Country office, Colombo 7, Sri Lanka.

Positioning sustainable development as a people’s programme -the institutional response

Institutionalization and intervention strategies today have come to play a major role in the public discourse. This is a truism of environmental law especially in the third world which is trying to keep pace with the global economic development while also carrying the burden of environmental degradation heritage that was passed on by the unscrupulous development strategies, both indigenous and transnational. Developing countries today are increasingly indulging in redrafting their economic policies within the language of environmental conservation.

Thankfully in India, this redrafting has been conditioned by a conversation between the institutions of governance, the judiciary and most importantly organized groups of the public. Policies and policy implementation in India have been the results of this conversation.

My paper brings out instances of how such conversation can be an effective instrument in making sustainable development an achievable goal. Today in India environment and sustainable development have become a people’s programme which is not just aimed at drawing judicial attention but translating such judicial directions into achievable programmes. I highlight here an example of organized group activity making sustainable development not just a constitutional guarantee but a people’s movement for better life.

The judicial statement in Tarun Bharat Sangh Vs. Union of India (AIR 1992 SC 514) is a reflection of sustainable development becoming a campaign. The court said, “Litigation should not be treated as the usual adversarial litigation. Petitioners are acting in aid of a purpose high on the national agenda. Petitioners concern for the environment, ecology, and the wildlife should be shared by the government”. This statement sums up the philosophy of public life today, a conversation between the institutions in the society today.
Such conversation has a demonstrable effect in environmental policy today. Today the administrative policies are directed at insisting environmental audit of every economic activity.

S R Garimella
Osmania University, Hyderabad, India. faculty, Institute of Law and Management Studies, Gurgaon, India

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

The public trust doctrine and sustainable development: An aspect of environmental law

The objective of this study is to introduce the public trust doctrine and to examine its application in relation to sustainable development. To facilitate this study judgments of the superior courts of Sri Lanka, India, the United States and several other countries are referred to.

The international instruments relating to environment demonstrate the concern of the international community for a healthy environment for all life forms including human beings through sustainable development. Sustainable development according to Bruntland Report (1987) is the development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of the future generations to meet their own needs. The public trust doctrine is an essential element of judicial process to facilitate towards sustainable development.

The public trust doctrine in essence means that powers vested in public authorities are not absolute or unfettered but are held in trust for the public, to be exercised for the purposes for which they have been conferred and that their exercise is subject to judicial review by reference to those purposes. Administrative acts and decisions contrary to the public trust doctrine and\or violative of human rights would be in excess or abuse of power and therefore void. The Court expressed the view that in such judicial review the historical English law limitations on prerogative writs are no longer applicable, because now Sri Lankan courts not courts of the Crown but are bound by the public trust doctrine and are subject to fundamental rights.

Undoubtedly the State has the right to exploit its own resources pursuant, however, to its own environmental and developmental policies and laws. Rational planning constitutes an essential tool for reconciling any conflict between the needs of development and the need to protect and improve the environment. Human beings are at the centre of concern for sustainable development. In order to achieve sustainable development, decision making process must also comply with public trust doctrine.

S S M De Silva
Department of Commerce, University of Sri Jayewardenepura, Sri Lanka