Monthly Archives: March 2006

Land-Use Change, Watershed Services, and Socio-Economic Impact in the Western Ghats Region

CISED Research Team: Sharachchandra Lélé, Ajit Menon, Shrinivas Badiger, Iswargouda Patil, A.K. Kiran Kumar, Rajeevakumar, Sowjanya Peddi and Lakshmikant

Collaborating Institutions: National Institute of Hydrology, ATREE, UNESCO and with the cooperation of the Karnataka Forest Department

The hydrological service benefits of tropical forests are the most poorly understood and contentious of all forest ecosystem benefits. This research study is a major, collaborative, and multidisciplinary project launched in 2002. It has attempted to understand the impacts of changes in forest cover on the hydrology, and of these hydrological changes on local communities in the Western Ghats region of Karnataka. With particular focus on differences between relatively intact forests and heavily used forests and forest plantations, the research has sought to trace the impacts of such changes on the hydrology and thereby on agricultural production, incomes and employment, and forest product benefits across different groups within settlements immediately downstream of the watersheds.

While five sites were initially selected for study, data collection and analysis could be completed only in four of them. These sites were spread across a range of rainfall regimes, ranging from ~3500mm in coastal Areangadi (Honnavar taluka) and ~2900mm in upghat Kodgibail (Siddapur taluka) to ~1000mm in Bandipur (Gundlupet taluka) and ~800mm in Arepalya (Kollegal taluka), and a corresponding range of forest vegetation types and livelihood systems.

Results from the high-rainfall Kodgibail site clearly demonstrate that conversion of natural forests to acacia plantations and heavily used tree savannahs reduces the infiltration capacity of the soils at the surface, leading to increased surface runoff. While there are differences in the evapotranspiration losses between tree savannahs and acacia plantations, in both cases there is likely to be a net reduction in the catchment’s contribution to groundwater recharge and hence to the post-monsoon flows in second order streams. Comparison of productivity and profitability of arecanut cultivation (a highly profitable crop) in valleys with different duration of post-monsoon flows showed that the valleys with longer post-monsoon flows have, on an average, greater arecanut productivity. On the other hand, farmers with greater access to forest products, particularly leaf manure and mulch, also have higher arecanut productivity. This suggests that arecanut farmers have to strike a balance between the indirect benefits from post-monsoon flows and direct benefits from the harvesting of forest products. The variation in forest tenure regimes across the landscape makes it impossible for farmers to make individual tradeoff decisions, and the absence of a village-level mechanism for community management currently makes it difficult to understand and resolve such tradeoffs at the community level.

Results from the drier site in Bandipur show how the technological context can influence the direction of the impact. The analysis of catchment hydrology showed reductions in surface soil infiltration capacities under heavy use as in the case of Kodgibail, and this factor dominates over any reductions in evapotranspiration due to sparser vegetation, resulting in quicker and higher runoff in the heavily used catchments. But interestingly, this change seems to actually benefit the community immediately downstream of the tank, as it increases the probability of timely filling of the irrigation tank built across the stream. And the effects are non-linear: A decrease in the runoff coefficient from 0.18 (which is the higher end of the estimated catchment response due to heavy forest use) to 0.12 will result in a change in December tank-filling probability from once in two years to once in six years (see Figure 3). The economic consequences of such a change are unevenly distributed. Average net income from lands in the tank command would decline by ~40 percent, and so would employment generated for other households, but the productivity of non-command lands would of course not be affected.

The possibility of negotiating these tradeoffs is further complicated by the fact that the communities that use the forest heavily are generally distinct from those that cultivate in the tank command, and by the lack of a well-defined institution for forest management. The findings in the other dry site (Arepalya) illustrate how the hydrogeological context can combine with the socio-technical context to further complicate the impact of forest cover change. Downstream communities depend upon groundwater and not surface flows. Steep slopes and a rocky geology result in limited infiltration in the catchment, and the main contribution to groundwater comes from percolation from the streambed during flash flooding in the valley. Consequently, changes in catchment land-cover will have limited impact on streamflow and groundwater recharge.

While there has been an apparent decline in groundwater levels in the past decade, and a corresponding increase in groundwater exploitation, the major cause of this decline is still the rainfall pattern; neither pumping nor forest cover change can explain this adequately. In this context, hydrological services per se will not form a significant motivation for any community to get involved in forest conservation.

Overall, our findings indicate that the impact of forest cover change is not so much due to change in evapotranspiration as due to changes in surface soil infiltration properties, and that the manner in which this biophysical impact translates into socio-economic terms depends very much on the geological and technological context—local farmers may or may not face tradeoffs between forest product availability and hydrological service. Further, if any reconciliation of such tradeoffs in a broad-based manner has to take place, institutions to assign forest and water rights clearly and equitably will have to be put in place.


Influence of Forest Cover Change on Watershed Functions in the Western Ghats: A Coarse-Scale Analysis

CISED Research Team: Sharachchandra Lélé, Jayasree V., Santosh Hegde

Complementing the field study of the relationship between land-cover and watershed services, we have attempted a unique approach to examining this relationship in the densely forested and high rainfall region of the Western Ghats of peninsular India at a wider scale. This approach involves a statistical analysis of cross-sectional and time-series data for a sample of catchments in this region for which streamflow data are being collected by state agencies for several years. With streamflow data from Karnataka’s Water Resources Development Organisation, rainfall data from the Directorate of Economics & Statistics, land-cover data from the interpretation of satellite imagery and ancillary data from various other sources, we put together a dataset for 20 catchments within the Karnataka region of the Western Ghats.

In our detailed time-series analysis of the rainfall-runoff relationship in four west-flowing river basins in southern Karnataka and Kerala – Polali (Gurupur river), Dasanakatte (Varahi river), Yennehole river, and Achankovil (Achenkovil river) – we found that:

•    There has been limited land cover change in these  catchments
•    There has been a perceptible change in the runoff pattern only in two of the four catchments, viz, Polali and               Dasanakatte, with both showing a declining runoff: rainfall ratio (see Figure 5)
•     In both these catchments, the land-cover change alone is not enough to explain this declining ratio

Further, field investigations in the Polali catchment indicate that the major cause of declining runoff may be increased official diversion and illegal pumping from the riverbed.



Understanding CBNRM in South Asia

CISED Research Team: Ajit Menon, Praveen Singh, Esha Shah, Sharachchandra Lélé, in collaboration with Suhas Paranjape and K.J. Joy 


CISED’s review of successful multi-sectoral initiatives in community-based natural resource management (CBNRM) across South Asia, was aimed at understanding the normative underpinnings of these initiatives, the strategies by which they pursued their goals, and the resultant processes and outcomes of such initiatives.

We looked at how these NGO-driven initiatives dealt with the question of intra-community differentiation, the tension between common and private resources, cross-scale impacts of micro-level resource management, balancing local knowledge and resources with external expertise and finances, and the challenge of integrating with external markets.

The study included a review of the literature, developing of typologies, conducting of e-discussions, and performance of detailed case studies based on field visits to about five or six such innovative initiatives. A final workshop was held in December 2005, to disseminate the results; the workshop also helped to generate directions for future collaborative work on these issues. A book,Community-Based Natural Resource Management: Issues and Cases from South Asia, has also been published in 2007 by SAGE.

Our findings suggest that outcomes of interventions are significantly influenced by the manner in which project implementers envisage change. Further, instead of long-term changes in governance structures, the state and donor agencies have co-opted CBNRM for well-funded but inappropriate projects. This narrowing of the practice and vision of CBNRM has also reduced the space available to independent initiatives that may be trying to promote more democratic and responsible resource management. 



Decentralising Governance of Natural Resources in India: A Review

Researcher: Sharachchandra Lélé 

This paper provides a broad overview of the past and ongoing efforts at decentralising the governance of natural resources (DGNR) in India. The focus is on ‘governance’, which includes both day-to-day management as well as broader decision-making regarding resource ownership, access and use, and associated legal, administrative, and fiscal arrangements. The analysis is based on the assumption that more decentralisation than what prevails today is better, but emphasises the need for multi-layered governance as well.Post-independence efforts at DGNR in India can be broadly categorised into 3 groups. State-initiated partnerships include joint forest management, participatory canal and irrigation tank management, and participatory watershed development programmes. In parallel, there are state-initiated efforts at full devolution of governance, viz, the setting up of Panchayati Raj institutions in general and the special efforts in tribal areas. The third category is community- and NGO-initiated efforts, with or without state recognition.

The motivations for and the design and implementation of these programmes vary significantly. In particular, decentralised governance is not the goal of partnership programmes. However, the experience shows that these programmes fail to meet even their limited objectives (let alone the rhetoric of community participation and empowerment that they adopt) in a sustained and equitable manner precisely because of lop-sided institutional design and inadequate devolution of powers. The community-initiated efforts show that when the state has limited its role to that of legal support and laying down the ground rules for sustainable use, resource management is much more effective. Unfortunately, even historically state-recognised community management systems are falling prey to the bureaucratic push for increased state control through the so-called partnership programmes, and the devolution efforts have essentially not taken off the ground.

This review provides insights into several ongoing debates about the shape of DGNR. It shows that successful decentralisation does not mean complete handing over of resource ownership but a judicious structuring of relatively autonomous local organisations within transparent and reasonable regulatory processes. It also suggests that because governance issues include questions of resource access and allocation across diverse users, the local organisation should be a broad-based democratic one, not confined to particular user groups. At the same time, to prevent elite capture, the direct economic benefits from resource utilisation need to be kept out of the local organisation’s purview. On the question of top-down versus bottom-up implementation of DGNR, this review suggests the need for a graduated, enabling approach with focused implementation in a few areas. At the same time, it warns against throwing money at DGNR – the changes required are primarily in rights, responsibilities, and mindsets, and the role of funding has to be kept secondary.

Mainstreaming DGNR into national democratic processes in India faces several challenges from within and without. Internally, political and bureaucratic support is sorely lacking. Externally, the economic environment and development policies being pursued militate against both decentralized governance and sustainable natural resource use. And the deeply embedded hierarchical social structures in most parts of India continue to pose a formidable challenge to decentralised democracy. Efforts will be required on many fronts and levels to make significant progress on decentralising NR governance in the country.

 Link to  research paper


Development and Diffusion of the Genetically Modified Bt Cotton Technology in Gujarat

Researcher: Esha Shah 

The debate on the social and environmental appropriateness of genetically engineered organisms has entered a crucial phase in the context of the events around the introduction, diffusion, and performance of Bt cotton seeds in India. Thousands of farmers from Gujarat, Andhra Pradesh, and Karnataka have cultivated the so-called "pirated" or "illegal" seeds supplied originally by the Navbharat seed company at least three years before the patent protected Bt seeds of Monsanto Mhyco Biotech were approved by the Indian government. The sheer existence and popularity of "illegal" Bt cotton seeds posits a paradoxical problem: While the proponents and opponents are fiercely debating the potential risks of genetically modified crop technology for society and environment, farmers have quietly appropriated and massively diffused the genetically engineered knowledge on cotton seeds.

This study examines this paradox by asking a question: Why have thousands of farmers in Gujarat adopted locally produced Bt cotton seeds? This study offers two arguments. First, Bt seed technology is representative of a technological culture with a specific value framework which is endorsed commonly by both multinational companies and the cotton growing farmers of Gujarat. The improvement and massive diffusion of Bt cotton seeds by farmers themselves in Gujarat implies that the technology finds a smooth insertion within the social and agrarian space shaped by the technological paradigm of the green revolution. As a solution to the problems generated by the green revolution technological paradigm, GM technology sustains and reinforces the hegemony of global and local elites.Second, the involvement of local actors in generation and diffusion of GM technological knowledge does not ensure automatic democratisation of use and management of resources. The adoption of Bt technology shows that local elites have political agency that joins hands with global elites in perpetuating the hegemony of the green revolution technological paradigm.

What is ultimately proposed is that the framework of back-end risk assessment, potential threat of monopolisation of knowledge, and the dynamics of regulatory framework may not be sufficient to evaluate appropriateness or social desirability of genetically engineered crop technology as they do not address front-end issues such as social context of technological choice. The appropriateness or social desirability of genetic engineering of crop technology should be understood with respect to wider issues concerning democratisation of technological culture (which would also entail democratisation of social and agrarian relations) and not in the narrow frame of risk or knowledge control.



Technological Vulnerability and Farmers’ Suicide

Researcher: Esha Shah

Farmers’ suicides in agriculturally prosperous Indian states of Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra, and Punjab have received wide attention since 1998. Farmers’ suicides have been generally attributed to an agrarian crisis. Liberalisation policies and the resultant withdrawal of the state, fluctuation of prices in international and domestic market due to globalisation, increasing indebtedness, and recurring droughts have all been considered responsible for creating the agrarian crisis. Based on fieldwork in Shimoga district of Karnataka, this study discusses technology’s agency in crystallising the agrarian crisis. It sheds light on how life experiences such as suicide are located in or related to a certain form of technological culture that produces both environmental and social vulnerability. How does technology provide a framework that shapes life experiences, perceptions, and practices, and how this framework shapes human agency are the questions probed in this research. The research ultimately questions values, beliefs, and assumptions employed in scripting technological designs.



Watershed Development: Issues and Prospects

Research Team: K. J. Joy, Suhas Paranjape, A.K. Kiran Kumar, Rohini Lele and Raju Adagale

This review examined the watershed development experience in Maharashtra and Karnataka with the aim of isolating key conceptual, policy, and research issues with regard to livelihoods, equity, sustainability, and participation. The review developed a rigorous and comprehensive normative framework based on the concepts of livelihood enhancement, sustainability, equity, and participation. The study then used data from existing reviews, assessments, project reports, and some field visits to assess the impact, in terms of the above mentioned normative framework, of a whole range of ongoing and completed watershed development projects in Maharashtra and Karnataka.  

The review found that there has been a beneficial impact of watershed development on watershed ecosystems: soil erosion has been checked; land cover has improved, and groundwater recharge has increased. However, there have been many negative impacts viz. absence of measures to socially regulate water use, bringing non-cropped area into cultivation, and a shift towards input-intensive cash crops in cropped areas. In terms of aggregate productivity gains, the overall response from farmers is that watershed development has a significant impact in the better (rainfall) years, but not otherwise.                 Externalities of watershed development are showing up at the basin-scale in the form of decreased flows into downstream tanks and reservoirs. Simultaneously, inter-sectoral externalities are also created. Inequitable impacts even within the watershed are another major concern.  

In terms of local participation, the emphasis on self-help groups has helped women and marginalised communities in some ways, but it has not led to their becoming an integral part of the watershed development activity. More often participation is seen as an instrument to obtain co-operation as a result more community based organizations (CBOs) are being formed. Though the funds are being channeled through CBOs, much of the decision making still remains in the hands of the development agencies.The review came up with a series of recommendations for policy-makers, implementing agencies, and researchers. At the outset, it calls for giving centrality to the goals of livelihood enhancement, sustainability, equity, and participation by all these actors. Practitioners then need to adopt pro-active measures to deal with sustainability and equity issues. The lack of adequate data and systematic research on many aspects calls for a well coordinated research. A related recommendation is to release the massive amount of data with the scientific and government establishment into the public domain and make it readily available at affordable prices. At the policy level, the review strongly recommends enabling legislation for collective regulation of groundwater use and eventually moving towards integrated water resource management (IWRM) from below.  

Published as: Technical report, Centre for Interdisciplinary Studies in Environment and Development, Bangalore (Executive Summary)