Life is impossible without forest, forest are not only providing us ecological services like clean air, water security, healthy soil, wild genome but is also source of wood, Non Timber Forest Produces (NTFPs), fuel wood that fulfill domestic and livelihood needs of millions of forest dwelling communities. The state is gifted with rich natural resources; where forest being the major resource crucial for sustaining economy and livelihood of the state. However this treasure is under threat due to various interlinked and dynamic causes like over exploitation of forest resources to fulfill demands of national and international markets, activities like mining, big dams; urban expansions, climate change, etc. All of which is resulting into irreversible loss of forest on thousands of hectors. The forest area diverted to non-forest use account for 30,331 hectares by the end of 2004-05 .
The local communities depending upon nearby forest are very much influenced by status of the forest and the condition of forest is also determined by sensitivity of the people around it. The local communities are the key players in conservation of natural resources as they are closely associated with it. Thus forest conservation has both global as well as local implications.

In these conditions, still there is ray of hope; there are approximately 12,000 forest protecting groups, spread all over the Orissa. Rough estimates indicate that in Districts like Nayagarh, Mayurbhanj, Sundargarh, Dhenkenal and others there are nearly 7688 village groups protecting around 2 million hectares of forest, ranging from a few years old to several generations old initiatives. These initiatives also exhibit an array of diversity in origin, management systems, institutional arrangements, etc. indicating situation specific conservation models evolved due to various interacting factors. Some of these efforts have traces before independence.

Most of these initiatives come up as a response to acute scarcity of fuel wood, fodder small timber and Minor Forest Produces (MFPs) to meet domestic and agricultural needs, here the forest is seen as a source of community development and a resource which needs to be managed sustainably for succeeding generations. While livelihood assurance through MFP collection, ecological services and economic benefits from the forest were the main considerations behind many initiatives, thus, it is the interaction between forest and the local community, where people felt the need to secure their future through local action.

These efforts of local population make a difference in many contexts, the difference is not only meant for forest and wildlife but the difference is evident for the society. Here the conservation starts from the ground and fruits of conservation i.e. benefits of conservation percolate in the ground. Most of these initiatives are self initiated however sometimes the co-alliances like Forest Departments or local NGOs acts as a catalyst, accelerating the process and giving shape to the ideas of the people.
In the scenario of sustainable development, where we have to realize the intricate balance between use and exploitation, we have to distinguish between our need and greed. Integrated Approach with comprehensive management of local resources is a key for sustainable development. This democratic, decentralized approach starts from micro level planning, implementation and monitoring done by primary stake holders. Dhanrasi is an ideal example, where there is a self initiated integrated development model developed by village communities themselves, however a grass root level NGO “PRAYAS” worked as a catalyst by facilitating the process through capacity building programmes and technical support.

The Village Dhanrasi:
Dhanrasi is a small tribal dominated village of fifty two households; the village comprises about 49% tribal population and 52% of other backward classes. Women are outnumbering males with sex ratio of 1043, women are not only dominating in sense on numbers but they are also very active in every village process. Detailed demography of the village is given in Annexure-5.1. Dhanrasi is situated 60Km away from Sundargarh towards west direction. The boundary line of Chattisgarh is 9Km away from the west boundary of the village, Kuchedega GP is situated 2Km away from the north boundary of the village while block head quarter Hemigir is situated 17Km towards north of the village.

History of Dhanrasi:
Before 200 years, where Dhanrasi is situated there were no civilization. The area was covered with dense forest. Gradually people coming from Rayagada, Sambalpurand other places settled. To establish agriculture and prepare land for house hold they cut down the trees and burnt it. They sawed paddy (Dhan) and Til (Rasi) on that time, as the land was fertile they harvested ample yield of both therefore the village is named as “Dhanrasi”.

The Conservation Attempt:
In the village micro-plan prepared by villagers in 2002, they priorities forest protection as issue that requires immediate attention. Even in group discussion they expressed grave concern regarding forest degradation, its impact and measures to be taken. At the time of establishment of village the forest was ample and agriculture was also flourishing. Over the period the forest degraded to the maximum extent. The villagers believe that it was the act of villagers themselves that degraded forest.
According to few old people Dhanrasi was an abode of snakes, and villagers were considering them as “Laxmi” (Goddess of Wealth). This belief was particularly based on sound traditional ecological knowledge base that respects ecological interlinkages and sharing of resources with other life forms. Role of snakes in rodent control and ultimately in ecosystem is well known in modern ecology. Snakes control rodents like mice, rats and protect our wealth from destruction. This was the base of this belief. However most of the old people believe that villagers set fire in the forest for individual profit and snakes fled from Dhanrasi. Therefore “Laxmi” went away. Wealth can be replenished through forest protection.
Not only this belief but realization among the people especially young generation about forest degradation and impacts of deforestation created determination to protect forest.

Dhanrasi villagers protect two types of forest irrespective of its ownership. Village forest called as a “Grammy jungle” which has been protected since last 20 years shows well stocked vegetation, while the patch of forest called as “Social forest” which has been protected from 2000 is quiet sparse. With consideration of change in physiographic conditions like soil conditions, water availability, the village forest is quite dense and it is situated along a perennial stream. The social forest is on degraded patch of land which is continuing with community protected forest of neighboring village and shows sparce vegetation. The village forest and part of social forest are situated on revenue land. Some part of social forest comes under forest land. The distribution of land in village is given in Annexure-5.2. Village forest is showing characteristics of dry deciduous mixed vegetation with presence of Sal, Bija, Piasal, Sisoo, Beheda, Karla, Mahua, Char and other. The social forest is composition of trees and shrubs like woodfordia (Dhataki). This area is also indicating natural regeneration of Khair (Acacia catechu), which was considered to extinct locally. Still this patch also exhibit exotic species like Australian acacia, Eucalyptus and cassia (Chakunda) that are planted by villagers under social forestry Programme.

History of conservation effort:
The Dhanrasi forest was degraded to the extent that it was difficult for the villagers to collect forest produces to fulfill their daily needs. About 20 years ago on the occasion of one festival “Raja Parva” (initiation of agricultural season) the villagers realized consequences of forest degradation. They faced problem to collect firewood for feast. This moment gave villagers realization that they have to protect forest to sustain their life. Since then they gave protection to village forest through informal system. They didn’t followed patrolling as the forest is very adjacent to the main conveyance and villagers always have surveillance on this forest. This helped them to identify any deterring activities in forest. Nobody is allowed to collect fuel wood and small timber from this forest, this forest is only utilized to fulfill communal needs like feasts on festivals.
There are evidences of traditional conservation systems in this village. The villagers are worshiping few species of trees like Pipal, Neem, Bel, etc.
Few traditional forest management systems revealed from the discussion with villager, the detailed observations are as follows:
1. “Rakhya Budha”, (an Old Age Guard) tree of Kullu/ Karaya (Sterculia urens)
During our informal discussion about traditional forest conservation methods, I observed a distinctive tree with white bark indicating its rareness in that area. It was observed that there are only two trees of that kind were present in the forest area of Dhanrasi. Locally the tree is named as “Rakhya Budha” (Rakhya-Safeguarding, Budha-Old man) mean, an old age guard protecting and directing the village. No-one in the village dare to cut the tree as it is important village deity, there are various customs attached with this tree, few of them are as follows:
Worshiping ceremony of the tree is done once in the during festive of “Raja Parva”, however only men can participate in this ceremony, women folks especially married ladies are not permitted to worship this tree. Every newly married couple in the village obtain blessing from “Rakhya Budha” before starting their married life.
All the above are customs besides this he also told important medicinal properties experienced by the villagers from the tree, bark of this tree is found to be wound healer.
The “Rakhya Budha” is nothing but “kull” or “Karaya” tree i.e. Sterculia urens , which is a common species of deciduous forest in India and it’s gum is among the important NTFPs of central India. However as mentioned before it is rare in Hemgir area. Some kullu trees observed in “shoalla” i.e. up-stream area where there is perennial or seasonal stream, ravine area. I also observed that in Hemgir region most of the roads are passed through forest, on the turning where there is Kullu tree it is worshiped as “Rakhya Budha”, and all passengers pray him good fortune and safety during journey. He further explained joyfully about beauty of the tree, its flowers, pods and many more. From his talks it was revealed that villagers only use its bark for medicinal purpose, while they were not aware about its gum. (The Karaya gum is edible gum used in chocolate and candies, it also possess medicinal properties and is important component of many Ayurvedic preparations. However this asset of the tree is proving enemy for it as in many parts of its common occurrence, it is becoming uncommon due to destructive harvesting practices to extract gum, which lead to the slow death of the tree.) We also observed a small temple at the base of second Kullu tree. Both the Kullu trees are situated on the bank of “nallah” leading to water tank build by villagers in consultation with “PRAYAS” through its watershed development programme.

There is another interesting place “Dev-mool”, where village deity is residing, this resident of village deity was nothing but a sacred patch of four to five tree-creeper complex. “Dev-mool” is situated on the village boundary; it is the starting point of “Gramya Jungle. Four tree species identified are viz. Piasal, Asan, Behada, Sal and Palash Creeper, while the sacred stones worshiped as village deity was placed under a dead Asan tree, covered by creeper of Palash.
The “Dev-mool” is essential part of culture of the village; various customs are attached with the place, where all ups and downs of the villagers are related with the village deity. Few customs related to “Dev-mool” are as follows:

This regenerating forest became inspiration for present generation, in 2000 young mass of the villagers decided to protect remaining forest of the village. Furthermore capacity building programmes organized by PRAYAS for watershed development gave realization to the people about natural resource management and importance of forests conservation in it.

Present Management system:
They formed various committees like nursery committee of women and protection committee of men which were assigned with particular work. The nursery committee members collected seeds from surrounding forests and dispersed in their forest. For some species like Neem, Amla they prepared seedlings and planted in this area. The protection committee was particularly involved in surveillance activities. The villagers are well informed about legal and administrative process and many times they take assistance of this process in catching and punishing forest offenders.
They have divided forest into different zone in which activities and utilization are decided through consideration of forest. More degraded forest get prime attention and is kept free from any type of use for effective regeneration, while each year villagers decide use zone in village meeting. Gazing is banned in regenerating forest where maximum plants are susceptible to cattle attach, but it is allowed in other areas where crop is not susceptible. Generally cattle feed upon agricultural land in lean season on agricultural leftover and also provide manure to farm. Moreover they have also constructed soil and water harvesting structure in social forest which are replenishing ground water, improving soil and accelerating vegetative growth.
There no restriction on collection of NTFP’s. Women folks of the village play very crucial role in collection of forest produce. Kendu forms major NTPF of this area, along with it Mahua flowers and fruits, char seeds and gum are another major NTFPs.
The area is now inhabited by many wild animals. We got stresses of schedule-I species like four horned antelope (Chausingha), Sloth bear, Indian fox and wolf. There is taboo among villagers regarding hunting of animals, people believe that village deity love wild animals and it don’t allow hunting in village forest.

Threats and Opportunities:
The villagers face acute scarcity of water in summer season, lack of irrigation confine people to take only one or two crops in a year. This scarcity is forcing people to migrate in other places especially in lean season.
However soil and water conservation measures taken by villagers with the help of PRAYAS are playing crucial role in improvement of the area. They have also developed conflict resolution mechanisms where intra village and inter village conflicts on resource management are solved mutually.
Though forest department is wishing to include this area under Joint Forest Management (JFM) villagers don’t want to loose their ownership through this programme. Initially they took assistance of the department but later on they realized that they will loose rights under the programmes like JFM.