Chandu was not optimistic when Participatory Forest Management programme (PFM) started in 2002. But now he recognizes the miracle that took place in North Wayanad Forest Division including his village Churuli.
Introduced in national forest policy of 1988, PFM envisages conservation of forest with constructive participation of local community.
"Nobody used a magic stick, but meticulous planning and hard work made it a success. Over the last eight years, North Wayanad Forest Development Agency (FDA) won in conserving and regenerating 21,428 hectors of its forest through PFM," says Sasikumar IFS, DFO of the division.
PFM is implemented through Vana Samrakshana Samities (VSS), people"s forum operates at village level. Today there are 20 VSS including six tribal (Adivasi) VSS (AVSS) in the division.
Initially, the department struggled hard to present PFM programme to people and shed the bad image that people kept about the department.
“As being in khaki, people had no trust in us. It was a big challenge to us" says Pradeep Kumar, divisional coordinator of the programme.
The development projects implemented in Samities helped the Department to overcome these barriers. Every Samiti was provided with houses, roads, drinking water facilities, biogas plants, solar lambs, vehicles, and medical and educational aids.
Every member was encouraged to air their opinions freely and this in turn ensured their higher participation in PFM meetings. Now that many refer PFM as one of the model participatory development programmes for rural area.
“I prefer VSS meeting to Gramasabha (ward level peoples forum of village panchayath) if both are conducted simultaneously. I participate in the Samiti meetings setting aside my politics. I feel that they are more beneficial to the public than the Gramasahas", says Alees from Kapptumala VSS.
The increasing trust and rapport between the department and the people really fuel this success than any other factor.
“Now we are getting a humanitarian consideration from the forest guards. Prior to PFM initiative, we would hide inside our homes or behind the trees when we saw forest guards even far away" says Leela from Mangalaserri VSS.
The collection of Non Timber Forest Products (NTFP) like honey, herbal medicines and spices fetches a substantial income to the tribals. The department implements various programmes collaborating with Tribal Development Department for marketing NTFPs. The FDA has been running a well functioning honey processing unit at Makkimala AVSS.
The traditional handicraft unit helps tribals showcase their skills as well as get reasonable price without intermediaries.
PFM undertook a series of successful awareness campaigns with the assistance of Social Intermediaries(SI). “We like tours, camps and awareness classes. It was a new experience" says Manoj from Makkimala VSS. Manoj and many others are proud of the opportunity they got to participate a tour to Parambikulam.
PFM engineered a network of self help groups, neighbourhood groups and children"s eco-clubs. A variety of programmes were also initiated through it, though not sustained. However, the 'use eco-friendly products" campaign through paper and cotton bag units of PFM was a grand success.
Through Samities, FDA could make positive changes in people"s attitudes towards forest conservation.
"Not the economic benefits, but aesthetic sense and eco-awareness attract us to conservation efforts of FDA." echoes many. They even reject the possibility of permitting development activities inside the forest.
"No compromise on fresh water, clean air and better atmosphere that we have today," says Vijayan from Kunnjom VSS.
This orchestrated participatory development has now become a model for entire Kerala with a strong message that a real revolution can even come through a little flute of reed.