Forestry and Fodder
Forests are a vital community resource – for fodder, fuel wood and leaf litter. The health of the forests also has an impact on soil and water conservation, water quality and the protection of bio-diversity. Healthy forests and sustainable management are crucial to maintain the ecological balance in the region. The long term sustainability of a community’s forest depends on how the community maintains and protects it.
Encouraging the community to understand the need to protect the forests and providing technical support as well as training are important aspects of our forestry program. We organize training sessions and work with 50 Van Panchayats (Village Committees responsible for local forestry) and user groups to strengthen conservation efforts and to enable communities to manage their forest resources better. Since 1986, Chirag has planted over 10 million saplings and worked with nearly 150 Village Level Institutions on conservation efforts.
The emphasis of our work is on increasing access to leaf litter, fodder and fuel wood production through plantation on common and private lands. Fodder access to feed livestock is particularly important. Most families possess some kind of livestock (cows, goats, etc.) and they represent an important source of livelihood, which provides the families with an additional source of incomes throughout the year. Therefore our goal is not only to increase the quantity of fodder available, but also to increase the number of months during which green fodder is available in the region. To achieve this goal, Chirag introduces new variety of fodder grasses that would remain green for longer periods, regenerate faster, etc. We also plant fodder grasses and shrubs along the contour trenches and on terraces, which encourage the growth of rootstock, enabling the soil moisture levels to go up and ensuring the survival of sapling broad-leaf trees.
Our teams also use scientific methods to improve their forestry efforts. We specify quadrate (10 m X 10m) plots in forests to monitor the growth and survival rate of different species of fodder and trees. This enables us to refine our plantation strategy and to account for local variations in geography and climatic conditions. More recently, we started to map the forestry plots using a GPS, which will enable us to evaluate the impact of our conservation over time.
These initiatives not only reduce the expenditure that families incur in raising animals or fuel wood, it also reduces the workload of women, who are responsible for gathering fuel, fodder and water. Healthy forests close to village communities mean that women have to travel shorter distances, freeing up their time for other activities. We also engage our Women Self Help Groups in many of our forestry related efforts such as maintaining nurseries, preparing forest plots, and planting and protecting saplings.