|Who Participates? The Case of Rural Women, an NGO and Joint Forest Management in Gujarat (IRMA, 1995)|
Jambar is a small village situated 16 kms south of Netrang, its closest market. It has about 100 households and a population of 500 people, living in three hamlets or falias. The village boasts of one primary school, three petty shops (one in each falia) and three handpumps. Like other villages in the district, Jambar is defined as a tribal village, that is, the population is assumed to be homogeneous (absence of caste barriers), practicing rudimentary agriculture, living in relative isolation from mainstream development and having a symbiotic relationship with forests.
However, the word "tribal", a legacy of colonial administrative policy, obfuscates the fact that tribals are essentially peasants, subsisting on agriculture with the family as the main unit of social organisation and production (labour power). Such communities are increasingly stratified, both economically (landholdings) and socially (vertical linkages with political parties and other interest groups). In Gujarat, for example, a three tier differentiation with big peasants at the top, an articulate middle peasantry and poor peasants and landless at the bottom is visible (Pathy 1984).
If we adopt a more realistic perception of tribals as peasants, then the people of Jambar are not an exception. They subsist predominantly on rainfed agriculture as only 5 hectares of a total of 140 hectares of cultivable land in the village are irrigated. Although the village is not stratified according to caste hierarchies, there is some differentiation in terms of landholdings, access to markets (cash crops) and assets or inputs (credit, draught/labour power, agricultural techniques). About 20 male members from marginal and landless families migrate each year after Diwali (the Hindu New Year) for a month. They mainly look for construction work in the nearby cities of Ankleshwar (55 kms from the village), Baroda (100 kms) and Surat (200 kms).
Landholdings are increasingly fragmented, though the size of the landholding is not as important as the quality of land and access to agricultural inputs. Most small and middle farmers are self-cultivators owning about three acres of land on which they cultivate tuver (pigeon pea), maize and paddy, largely for subsistence purposes. A few farmers are able to grow vegetables, if they have wada land (homestead), or cotton as a cash crop. In some cases, farmers till land which is jointly held by the family, which means that resources such as bullocks and family labour can be shared at times of need. This also means that there is more pressure on the land, as there are more family members trying to eke out a livelihood from the same resource. The quality of the land is poor and the use of chemical fertilisers not uncommon. Generally, farmers in this category own at least 1 cow, but because of the low returns from agriculture they are forced to look for other sources of income.
Large farmers own at least two acres of wada land in addition to about five acres of farmland. They have access to irrigation (groundwater) and are able to cultivate and sell cash crops such as groundnuts and cotton as well as surplus from subsistence crops like tuver and paddy, or vegetables and occasionally fruit from the wadas. Families in this category own one or two cows and two bullocks. They are also able to hire labour when needed, which means that women do not usually engage in agriculture, except perhaps for weeding or protecting the fields from predators.
The village is patrilineal and all landholdings are registered in the name of men. Although women and men are both involved in agriculture, decisions concerning the choice of crops, harvesting and marketing are made by men. Women are however, consulted and they do appear to have an informal, but largely invisible decision making role.
Animal husbandry and agriculture are inter-related. Cattle are taken to graze on the gauchar land (village or revenue wasteland) mostly by children who collect cow dung and bring it back home where it is mixed with other waste and then used as manure. Bullocks are generally stall-fed, either on crop residues or fodder (grass) available around the fields or from the forests.
People's relationship with forests and therefore, forest regeneration, has to be seen in the larger framework of agriculture. There are about 106 hectares of forest land situated 3 kms from Jambar. Men and women's relationship with the forest varies according to the different household needs they are responsible for. Till recently, the forests were rich in teak and bamboo which the men would cut for house construction purposes, or to make furniture and agricultural implements, such as wooden ploughs. Women and girls used to easily (and still do) collect small twigs, broken branches and pieces of bark as fuelwood from the forests as well as fodder.
In addition, the bark and leaves of different trees were used for a range of medical and cultural purposes. For example, the bark of the asitra tree (Bauhinina purpurea) was boiled in water and used to cure dysentery in people and cattle, while its flowers were cooked as a vegetable and its leaves used for making bidis (local cigarettes) smoked by both men and women. Similarly, the flowers of the khakar tree (Butea monosperma) were boiled in water, cooled and used for bathing by people suffering with fever or a sudden heatstroke. A paste was made from the bark of the tree and applied on patients with chickenpox to help the boils dry out quickly without leaving a scar. Sewan (Gamelina arborea) is considered one of the most sacred of all trees and is used for religious purposes (small shrines are made from its wood).
However, because of the increasing deforestation in the area many of the indigenous species are no longer available in the forests (some have been planted in the plantation). To an extent, the practices described above have been replaced by allopathic and homeopathic medicines which villagers can purchase when they go to Netrang. Moreover, the Forest Department has restricted people's access to the forests through a series of legislative measures (see Pathak 1994). Thus, timber for construction and other purposes has to be bought. Since, officially, Jambar is classified as a "tribal" village, the FD does supply 50 poles of bamboo to households once in two years, at a subsidised cost, for house construction or repair work. But, most families find they have to supplement this by buying wood from the commercial market which is costly.
Radhaben, the wife of a small farmer explained that when her family moved into one of the new hamlets in Jambar (Navi nagri falia), the government built them houses, under the rural low-cost housing scheme. However, only the walls of the houses were pucca (concrete) while the ceilings were made of bricks. So they had to pay another Rs 200 to get wood for their roof from a nearby village. Generally, the family has to hire labour to help them bring the timber back and this costs them Rs 10-12 per labourer, plus lunch.
Women and young girls still collect twigs, branches and bark as fuelwood, but this is only done in the winter and summer months. During these periods, the collection of woody biomass takes up almost an entire day, and is undertaken for approximately 15-30 days in each season. For the rest of the year, families depend on crop residues, particularly dried tuver stalks, as a cooking medium. The tuver plantation cycle is from July to January or February. After harvesting the stalks are allowed to remain in the field for a month (drying) and then removed and stored. Tuver stalks are thick and burn well. The slightly better off farmers have increasingly been cultivating trees, such as eucalyptus on or around farmland to meet their basic fuelwood and timber needs. In this situation, it is the landless families who continue to suffer - since they do not have agricultural land from where they can obtain crop residues, they are forced to encroach on the forests.