| Co-Operatives In Natural Resources Management Workshop report 10 |
There were six case-studies on this subject presented at the Workshop (Table-2). The participants emphasised, inter alia, the importance of security of land tenure as an instrument of promoting afforestation of village common wastelands (Chambers et al., 1989). For the success of TGCS, two things are of paramount importance: (a) exclusive property right of TGCS to the land on a long-term lease of at least 30 years and its enforcement to restrain non-rights holders from using the resource; and (b) ability of the TGCS to coordinate and regulate the use of the resource by its members to avoid "free-riding" (Ballabh and Kramer, 1992). Most of the case-studies presented in the Workshop reported that the co-operatives were able to obtain long-term usufruct rights to the lands managed by them. However, the acquisition of such rights by co-operatives had not been easy. For example, Raju and Sarabhai (1992) identified the following difficulties in acquiring land for organising tree growers’ co-operatives:
(i) bureaucratic hassles in getting the lease of wastelands;
(ii) poor co-ordination among government functionaries; and
(iii) difficulties in obtaining funds and technical guidance.
This was further confirmed by the experience of the NTGCF. For example, in Rajasthan, an application for land lease by a TGCS has to pass through several officials starting from the lowest rank of the Revenue Department, the Patwari/Talati, to the Revenue Minister (Mishra, 1992). Rajasthan is not the only state where this kind of situation prevails; all the other states also suffer from similar problems (Mishra, 1992). Not only this, the terms and conditions of lease also vary significantly across the states. In some states, the co-operatives are asked to pay land revenue at rights significantly higher than those paid by individual private land-owners in that area for their better quality land. Further, since the land given to co-operatives are usually of poor quality, and do not produce even a blade of grass, it was observed that the co-operatives, in some cases, were asked to pay land revenue right from the beginning of the project when the land productivity was almost negligible. Several other important issues emerged in relation to land lease to the co-operatives. They include: (i) restrictions on membership (confined to particular group/community); (ii) restrictions on the use of land (only for tree plantation) (iii) uniform standard for allocation of land irrespective of differences in quality and productivity; and (iv) short period of lease (Mishra, 1992).
The participants were of the opinion that unless security of tenure and more autonomy at the grassroot level are provided, programmes of afforestation of common pool lands are unlikely to succeed. The Government of India (GOI) order of June 1, 1990 was considered inadequate to meet these requirements. However, the experience of village forest co-operative societies of Kangra district in Himachal Pradesh, reported by Agrawal and Singh (1992), was instructive. These village co-operatives, for long, performed admirably the function of protecting the forest assigned to them. First established in 1941, such co-operatives performed well, while they enjoyed legitimacy, autonomy and financial and technical assistance from the government. In recent years, these societies are on a decline because of the indifferent attitude of the forest department towards them (Agrawal and Singh, 1992).
Singh and Subramanian (1992) in their paper assert that for success of any co-operative venture in general and TGCS in particular, people’s participation is a pre-requisite. Their paper was aimed at determining the extent of people’s participation in organising and managing TGCS in Dhenkenal district of Orissa and identifying the factors that affect it. They found people’s participation to be relatively high in the old TGCS and relatively low in the young ones. The major factors that were associated with high people’s participation included awareness and education about TGCS, cohesive village communities, good leadership, high stakes in the common pool wastelands, availability of revenue wastelands in sufficient quantity, professional skills and pro-people stance of the project officials, and project design-specific factors such as decentralised and democratic decision-making, provision for equitable distribution of benefits and sharing of costs.
Despite innumerable problems in acquisition of land for TGCS, the experience of the NTGCF has been encouraging. According to Mishra (1992), the people have been more co-operative than anticipated in the beginning of the project. He further argues that such co-operatives can provide useful answers to the problems of private and revenue wastelands in the neighborhood of settlements in regions where large tracts of uncultivated wastelands are available, population pressure is comparatively low and fuelwood and folder scarcity is high. More careful analysis of Vatra Tree Growers’ Cooperative Society in Kheda by Saxena (1992) underpins the above optimism and suggests how much a well-run TGCS can achieve. While Saxena found the co-operative, which managed 38 ha plantation, to be economically viable, he notes a number of problems that the co-operatives is facing currently: frequent encroachments by members and non members particularly by the shepherd community, very modest plantation on members’ private lands, inadequate processing and marketing facilities and absence of a clear mechanisms for equitable distribution of the surplus from common land plantation.
The experience with internal coordination and management of NRMCS has not been encouraging. For example, Singh and Mohanty (1992) report that the Sabaigrass Processing and Marketing Society was poorly managed and badly governed. It was be set by problems of infighting amongst the elected leaders, inflexible procedures, poor quality produce and low moral of its employees. Such conflicts are rare where members’ stakes and control are higher as in the case of village forest co-operatives of Himachal Pradesh (Agrawal and Singh, 1992).
Datta and Joshi (1992) explored the scope of using co-operatives for reclamation, management and use of water-logged and saline soils. They noted that although this task requires community approach and collective vigilance, co-operative can overcome these problems only if they can contain the problem of free riding. Since at smaller scale (individual farm level) the technology of land reclamation becomes ineffective and unviable, participation of all farmers in the affected area is necessary for success of land reclamation projects (Datta and Joshi, 1992). On the basis of experience with a subsurface drainage project, Datta and Joshi contend that asset disparity, heterogeneity, conflicting needs and overall perception of people about the need for drainage etc. may limit the success of co-operatives in such an endeavor.
From the discussions held at the Workshop and a review of available literature, the following lessons can be drawn (Singh and Ballabh, 1989; Shankar Narayan, 1991; Saxena, 1987; Gupta, 1989; Shah and Ballabh, 1986):
(i) Integration of savings, savings-linked loans, and afforestation/plantation activities: The AKRSP(I)’s experience in Gujarat shows that unless this is done, no programme of afforestation of common wastelands with people’s participation can succeed in the long-run.
(ii) Choice of tree species: Wrong selection of tree species by the Forest Department officials has led to alienation of the local people from afforestation activities. It is therefore necessary that a system needs to be evolved and institutionalised for choosing suitable tree species through joint consultation with the local people and Forest Department officials.
(iii) Alternative sources of fodder and fuelwood: When the village commons are closed for grazing and collection of fuelwood for allowing newly planted saplings to grow, the local people’s requirements of fodder and fuelwood must be met from some other alternative sources. Neglect of this basic principle of forest/plantation protection has led to the failure of tree plantation schemes.
(iv) Equitable distribution of benefits from woodlots/ plantations: Definite rules should be specified and made public right at the outset for ensuring equitable distribution of all short-term, intermediate and long-term benefits from community plantations. Such rules should be incorporated in the bye-laws of the co-operative and must be enforced and monitored by its members. Unauthorised usurpation of benefits by any member or other vested interests must be prevented and the culprits penalised heavily.
(v) Financial: Conditions under which financial viability can be achieved and maintained should be specified right at the time of project formulation. Thereafter, a close monitoring should be done to make sure that they are all fulfilled. This is essential to sustain the project.
(vi) Procurement, storage, processing, and marketing: A co-operative organisation should perform all these functions most cost-effectively if it is to successfully compete with private traders engaged in these activities. In view of the significant economies of scale involved in these activities, only a vertically and horizontally integrated three-tier structure can successfully perform these functions.
(vii) Quality-based pricing: Judging the quality of wood is a difficult task for the personnel of TGCS and it is in this respect that the private traders are superior to their personnel. It requires a lot of hands-on experience and skill to be good at judging the quality of wood and determining its price accordingly. TGCS personnel will need to beg, borrow, and steal expertise in this area from private traders engaged in timber business.