MAKING IT COUNT: A LIVELIHOODS ASSESSMENT OF EXTERNAL ACTOR INTERVENTIONS IN INDIAN COMMUNITY-BASED FOREST MANAGEMENT
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Decentralization of forest tenure and subsequent community-based governance regimes are supported among scholars and practitioners as vehicles for both sustainable collective action, and the improvement of forest-dependent livelihoods. In India, well-intended community forestry programs and tenure reforms in support of this conviction have frequently become stagnated in practice. The implementation of the Forest Rights Act (FRA) has been no exception, largely due to complex political-economic struggles with incumbent power holders at both regional and local levels. Some of these policy actors and institutions, out of a desire to maintain the power that naturally follows the ownership and control over forests and their resources, have reacted with intransigence to the reforms embodied in the FRA. This institutional inertia seriously impedes the potential for a new and more sustainable path to be realized by frustrating the implementation process and further threatening the livelihoods of tribal forest dwellers, who depend on forest resources for their survival. Under such circumstances, external actors present themselves to support and empower communities through (1) improving access to key livelihood assets, and (2) assisting the institutional reform endeavor both locally and beyond. That notwithstanding, the extent to which positive livelihood outcomes follow external development interventions remains unclear. This report attempts to provide thorough empirical analysis of institutional capacities, livelihood assets, and the mechanisms by which external actors can cause changes in these attributes. Two villages were examined post-FRA, in the Bhadrachalam South Forest Division of Andhra Pradesh. One village has received substantial help from actors external to the community, and the other has experienced no external actor involvement. Substantial institutional reform has occurred in the treatment village, while the control village lags behind. Similarly, the treatment village has seen some positive change in the access to certain livelihood assets. The treatment village is (1) harvesting more products, benefiting more, and benefiting more/unit harvested from their forest, (2) perceiving forest-related conflicts to be lower, and (3) has experienced infrastructure development as a result of a more prosperous forest economy, and (4) is meaningfully participating in governing activities, relative to the control village. The evidence suggests that the variability in these outcomes can in part be explained by specific activities undertaken by external agents which (1) build capacity among villagers, (2) provide technical administrative support, and (3) advocate local interests. The research concludes that while the short-term gains of the intervention is apparent, it is unclear the extent to which the changes will be sustained for self-governance over the long term. Some evidence suggests a lack of self-sufficiency amidst these new arrangements, which inevitably give new meanings to the relationship between the community and the forest land.