|Who Participates? The Case of Rural Women, an NGO and Joint Forest Management in Gujarat (IRMA, 1995)|
In 1990, recognising people's needs for fuelwood and fodder, AKRSP approached Jambar to explore the possibility of forming a Gram Vikas Mandal which would undertake plantation and protection activities on part of the forest land through the JFM initiative. About 75 hectares of forest land have since been allocated for afforestation in three stages: 1991 (30 ha); 1992 (30 ha) and 1993 (25 ha). The GVM has 84 members, mostly from the small and middle farmer category. Membership fees are Rs 11 per family and registered membership is in the name of the male head of family. The GVM meets once a month and elected functionaries are accountable to the members directly. There are 9-11 elected members on the committee (number fluctuates with sudden deaths or resignations) who are expected to be present at all the meetings.
Although two seats are reserved on the management committee for women, their participation at meetings is negligible, particularly since a separate Mahila Vikas Mandal (MVM) was established in 1992 (see below). One of the women on the committee, Ambaben, is also the chairperson of the MVM.
Plantation activities include a number of different tasks which involve men (to a large extent) and women (to some extent) at different stages in the project cycle as outlined below:
1. Site selection: jointly involves AKRSP, key GVM members and the
2. Choice of tree species: this is established through PRA exercises, such as preferential tree ranking matrixes which are done separately with men and women, assuming gender differences in the choice of trees. Plantation species include a range of multi-purpose trees, identified by both men and women according to their needs (fruit trees, eucalyptus, bamboo, neem and various fuelwood and fodder species)
3. Pre-plantation activities (January to May): essentially include clearing the land (weeds, old root stock), digging pits and trenches and gully plugging to prevent soil erosion where necessary. Most of the heavy digging work is done by men, while women help with some land clearance and removal of mud (from digging). Women are also responsible for maintaining saplings in the nursery, an income earning opportunity which is usually allocated to landless women (four in Jambar).
4. Plantation (June-July): involves headloading, that is carrying the saplings in their plastic bags from the nursery to the site, an activity undertaken by women. Men and women are both involved in cutting the bags and then planting the saplings in the prepared pits. Site maintenance is done by both women (weeding) and men (soil work, and cutback or pruning of trees).
5. Site protection: this used to be done exclusively by men in groups of two to three. Each household gets its turn to contribute one adult male for site protection, approximately once in 22 days (a total of 12 days in the year), However, since August 1994, the GVM decided to employ one of its members as a chowkidar or forest guard on a permanent basis, paying him a salary of Rs 300 a month from the village fund. It was found that members were not able to meet their commitments to site protection, partly because their "turn" conflicted with other agricultural or domestic responsibilities.
It is clear that the most significant benefit from forestry to date has been wage income as well as an assured supply of fodder and fuelwood in the summer months. Both men and women are paid equal wages - Rs 31.55 per day out of which, Rs 1.55 is deducted towards the GVM village savings fund, Rs. 5.00 goes directly towards their respective GVM or MVM savings accounts (bank) and the remaining Rs. 25 is cash in hand, which usually goes towards household consumption (education, food, health care). However, employment generation is short-term: after the saplings are planted, there is only some maintenance and protection work. But critical decisions will have to be made about the distribution of benefits once the trees are ready for harvesting, keeping in mind that the FD has rights to 50 percent of the forest produce.
In addition to its JFM activities, AKRSP has also been promoting farm forestry by providing seeds to farmers to grow trees around their fields or on wadas. This is an activity where women are more involved since it is closer to their homes and they feel they have more control over decision making concerning the choice of species as well as control over cash income from the marketing of surplus produce.
In 1992, AKRSP introduced its individual biogas programme in Jambar, helping families to obtain subsidised funding and training a woman extension volunteer (EV) to promote biogas as a viable option, even for marginal and landless families. Contribution by beneficiaries in terms of excavation of pit, material procurement and mason's wages amounts to about Rs 1000. The total cost of one plant can be upto Rs 4500, though this varies with the size of the plant. Plant size ranges from one to three square metres and depends on the availability of land as well as the number of cattle owned. Generally, it is the middle and larger farmers who can afford biogas plants. The EV (Taraben, who is also the secretary of the MVM) gets Rs 50 per installation, out of which Rs 30 is borne by AKRSP and the balance by the concerned household.