Due to Koppal’s dry land, its forest reserves have next to no non-timber forest produce. Chandragiri’s additional cashew plantations are an exception which no longer receives JFPM funds.
The Joint Forest Planning and Management (JFPM) funds in Chandragiri village used for fertilizers and irrigation are frozen as the Village Forest Committees (VFC) has been shut down for three years. Chandragiri’s cashew plantations is its only revenue source and Non-Timber Forest Produce (NTFP) they get from the forest land which is now suffering due to bad weather and low funds.
Hanumantappa has been working at Chandragiri for 20 years. Currently, he is the Deputy Range Forest Officer (DRFO) under whose jurisdiction Chandragiri falls. “The VFC here shut down in 2019. There was supposed to be elections for new members for the committee, but that never happened and instead it was shut down,” he said.
He added that with new elections they can restart the committee but the bureaucratic process is lengthy and complicated.
Data given by the Forest Department shows that currently, the VFC account for Chandragiri holds Rs. 64,850.
Range Forest Officer(RFO) of Kushtagi, Chaitra Menasinakar, said, “We have been writing to higher officials since 2021 to restart the VFCs here so the funds can be used, but we haven’t received a response yet. because of this we no longer have a VFC in Chandragiri to manage the production and sale of cashew.”
Chaitra added, “We collect and auction the cashew produce off to the Chandragiri villagers and deposit 50 percent of the revenue in the VFC fund, but since that committee shut down, the fund is frozen and the villagers cannot use the money in it.”The other 50 percent of the profit is given to the villagers, who use it for village development purposes, said Chaitra.
Under the JFPM programme revenue of any work undertaken has to be divided between the government (Forest Department) and the villagers (Chandragiri). Hanumantappa said, “We have been depositing money in the VFC account because we hope the committee will restart again and we will have funds to use then.” He added that the account should not lie empty even if it is frozen.
Professor Subarna Bhattarchyya, of the School of Environmental Sciences, Jadavpur University said that the VFC were created to manage and increase the NTFP yield. “The main job of VFC workers is to conserve and grow the plants producing NTFP to increase the yield If NTFP is not collected, production increased, and revenue shared equally, then the programme can be considered practically failing,” she said, “which we see has happened in Chandragiri”..
The output has been reduced to half, 20 quintals per season, due to the lack of rain and funding.
Prof. Bhattarchayya added that despite cashew being a self-grown crop, fertilizers and pesticides are still important for growing production. “Monocropping, especially, is prone to pests. These things are costly; more so for farmers who are working on these cashew plantations for additional work and do not solely focus on it.”
“We don’t know why we can’t use the VFC funds anymore. Half our cashew revenue is being deposited there for three years but they [the Forest Department] can’t tell us when we can use it,” said Sarangya Sarangmathya, village head and ex VFC president, who is also a cashew farmer. “Koppal’s weather is not bad for cashew. But now the weather is not always ideal; when we need rain, it’s dry; when we need sun, it’s cloudy.”
“We don’t get much revenue anymore, around Rs. 50,000 to Rs. 55,000 a year,” said Sarangya. He added that when the VFCs were running, they would use the 50 percent profit deposited there to buy fertilizers, pesticides, and irrigation equipment for the cashew plantations. “But now we only have access to half the profit which we have to use for village development as funds in general are low.”
In a village of 200 people, the number of cashew growers has now reduced to 50 villagers. “Because there is so little fund to improve production, more villagers are now disinterested to grow cashew here,” said Hanumantappa. He added that since Chandragiri is the only village with NTFPs in Koppal, it needs to be protected. “With the current scenario, the production will only steadily diminish and eventually stop, leaving Koppal with no NTFPs at all,” he concluded.
The JFPM programme was started in Kushtagi in 2002. After 2012 funding for VFC’s in different areas was stopped, including in Chandragiri, a village in Kushtagi. Out of the 37 running VFCs under the programme , 35 have shut down and the remaining funds are now frozen.