Challenges of a new vision: Linking Forest Management with Tradition and Information Technology

Dr. Sanjay Srivastava, IFS

Over the past few years, the concepts of government and governance have been dramatically transformed. There is not only an increased pressure from the citizens about not only the way government functions but also an expectation that government should be more open to democratic accountability. Information & Communication Technologies (ICTs) have a valuable potential to help meet good governance goals in the country. Government of Jharkhand recognises the power and potential of ICTs and the effect it can have in transforming the government processes. It was found essential that the State government adopts a strategic framework for the achievement of its e-governance vision for which it was required to focus upon customers, services, delivery channels, e-governance infrastructure, people (institutional framework), processes and policies. While Jharkhand, despite being youngest State in the country, has been pioneer in establishment of State Wide Area Network (Jharnet) and panchayat-based Common Service Centre (CSC) projects, its progress in computerization of key applications like treasuries, commercial taxes etc. has also been noteworthy.

On other hand, worldwide, forests are a key resource serving a multitude of functions, such as providing industries with timber and communities with plentiful and clean water, protecting infrastructure in mountain regions against natural hazards, creating and managing habitat for wildlife species, maintaining biodiversity and aesthetic values, sequestering carbon, and others. The growing need to consider so many different kinds of values has posed considerable challenges for modern forest management, which must now additionally consider multiple, and often conflicting, ecological and non-timber objectives over a range of spatial and temporal scales.

Forest management is the art and science of managing forest resources. However, the term “managing” carries with it various connotations including, for example, directing and controlling. In the sense of directing, forest management is fundamentally concerned with deciding how to use forests to provide the values, goods, and services desired by society. In the sense of controlling, forest management is concerned with the application of a diverse array of specific operations to satisfy the goals and objectives established by decision makers.

Jharkhand, locally means “the forest area”, is a region of great unevenness consisting of a succession of plateaus and valleys, dense lush green forests, drained by several rivers and have a large deposit of minerals. With a geographical area of 79,714 km2, about 40% of the total minerals of the country are available here. The region accounts for 35.5% of the country's known coal reserves, 90% of its cooking coal deposits, 40% of its copper, 22% of its iron ore, 90% of its mica and huge deposits of bauxite, quartz and ceramics. The total population of the sate is 26.91 million of which rural population is 77.8% and urban population is 22.2%. The tribal population in state is quite high constituting 22.5% of the state’s population.

Forests in Jharkhand extend over 23,605 km2 representing 29.61% of the total geographical area of the State of which 82% is Protected Forest and 17.5% is Reserve Forest with a small amount of unclassed forests. Forests of Jharkhand are rich in minor forest produce including medicinal plants like Kendu/Tendu, Harra, Behera, Mahua, Kusum, Karanj, Amla, Chironji, Giloe, Satawar etc. Accumulated ethno-botanical wisdom of local tribes Santhals, Pahariyas, Hos, Mundas etc. retains tribal knowledge of medicinal values of the forest species. The biodiversity of state is however under severe threat from human induced activities, industries, mining, settlement, development projects and removal of forest products, overgrazing and forest fires. Majority of forest is lost due to industrialization and extraction of minerals from the earth crust. There is an urgent need to conserve the rich biodiversity of the state through well thought for management interventions before the treasure is lost forever.

Current Status

Increasing realization of the fact that forests not only provide multiple benefits to mankind but also help in conserving the environment has created concern for their protection and preservation. Destruction and degradation of forest resources may have detrimental effect on human and animal life on the earth and this realization has motivated us to study forest at various levels (from global to local) for forest assessment, conservation and sustainable forest management. Advances and innovations in Information Technology (IT) in the past 20 years have enabled significant changes in the practice of forest management. In the following sections, we first consider the drivers behind ICT adoption and recent ICT innovations, then how the practice of forest management has been impacted by ICT, and finally the consequences of these impacts in terms of issues such as the efficiency and effectiveness of forest management.

How forest management is currently practiced

Stimulated by developments in business administration and industry, computer-based decision support systems (DSSs) have been improving the quality and transparency of decision making in natural resource management. DSSs provide support to solve ill-structured decision problems by integrating database management systems with analytical and operational research models, graphic display, tabular reporting capabilities, and the expert knowledge of scientists, managers, and decision makers to assist in solving specific problems.

The assessment of biological rich areas using latest IT tools such as satellite images brings out distinctiveness of the landscapes as driven by pattern of richness, endemism, biological corridors, community composition and diversity. The analysis made also presents full range of distinct natural communities and ecological status at landscape level. Satellite maps bring out the landscape capable of maintaining the viable population species; sustain important ecological process and services. This information is of valued importance in rugged and inhospitable regions.

In the period since DSSs came to prominence, there has been a shift from automatic cartography to geographic information systems (GIS). The potential power of GIS goes beyond producing maps by providing mechanisms for the input, storage, analysis, and use of spatial information. GIS has increased the acceptance of DSSs and led to the development and application of spatial decision support systems (SDSSs). Spatial data and the analytical capabilities of GIS within an SDSS have been necessary to address new demands in strategic and operational planning for natural resource management.

Interdisciplinary approach with Remote Sensing, GIS and GPS technologies are being conceptualized to bring about the development in such regions through creating/updating, disseminating information related to resources and aspects of development. Such a customized information system aims to integrate various datasets at micro-level (village, panchayat and block). Attempts have also been made to integrate and generate comprehensive information including computerization of Record of Rights (RORs) for Lohardaga and Jamshedpur districts in Jharkhadn a pilot projects. Land Record Information System (LRIS) is also being developed to address issues like Land Utilization, Rural Development and poverty Alleviation, Tribal Development, Natural Resource Management & Utilization, Wasteland, Watershed prioritization, Infrastructure Planning etc. thus finally leading to overall regional development. Information will be made available and accessible to the people ranging from policy makers, administrators, plan executors, researcher and academicians, NGOs to the villagers and other people concerned.

These studies are being carried out using Indian Remote Sensing Satellite data (LISS-III and LISS-IV), Census data and Survey Data on households, village information, health information and education information.

Impacts of ICT adoption and innovation

Some basic inventory information such as species composition and standing stock can potentially be obtained by remote sensing. Effectiveness is further improved by more transparent and readily available information about forest resources and its socio-economic context provided by management information systems.

Spatial information is the key to addressing both operational and environmental concerns in forest management. As the diversity of ecosystem management objectives increases, demand grows for spatial resolution. The use of GIS is thus critical for both the efficiency and effectiveness of decision making. Satellite imageries are considered as a very convenient tool to study forest since they provide a digital mosaic of the spatial arrangement of land covers.

This technology helps in extracting maximum amount of vegetal information that describe vegetation diversity i.e. extent, structure, composition and condition. Though each of these can be measured on ground, but they may be interpreted more effectively from satellite imagery. The multispectral satellite images provide definitions of forest/vegetation patches, which are related to phenological types, gregarious formations and communities occurring in unique environmental setup. Advancement in the sensor capabilities having better spatial and spectral resolution and stereo viewing facility in some of the sensors is a major breakthrough in satellite remote sensing.

Policy Considerations

Some of the considerations to consolidate decisions about policy formulation in relation to opportunities for continued systems development to support forest management are:

• Systems development aimed at improving the effectiveness of public participation in planning processes for forest management (for example, Web-based services such as e-planning) could be instrumental in reducing, at least to some extent, the contentiousness in society that now surrounds forest management issues. However, developments in this area are quite recent, so there is little practical experience with the benefits or pitfalls associated with these kinds of technologies. The social sciences could therefore play an important role, documenting the extent to which current solutions are effective and how they might be improved.

• Management for conservation is increasingly seen as an integral component of contemporary forest management. Inclusion of conservation indicators in Sustainable Forest Management (SFM) initiatives tends to strongly accentuate this trend. On the other hand, we know that conservation is simply forest management with particular emphases on certain values. Therefore, future advances in conservation management are very likely to be closely associated with ICT advances in forest management more generally.

• A better environment for new innovative forest sector strategies and businesses could be created and nurtured by national policies. Governments must enhance research and development in new technologies and their applications and support investments in more-risky, innovatory, long term projects.

A further major challenge for forest-related governance is how to take the local level and rural settings appropriately into account. Forest arrangements that are not focused on or driven by a common global threat, such as climate change, tend to be quite ineffective, as they are disconnected from the issues on the ground. These often need to be resolved on a local basis rather than at the global level. The principle of subsidiarity has yet to be firmly established and implemented in international forest governance. ICT can nonetheless support good governance principles just as well on the local as on the international level.

We have a vibrant satellite Earth Observation (EO) programme in the country. The IRS systems, workhorse for major EO applications, have made considerable impact in the areas of natural resources management, environment monitoring, disaster management and infrastructure development. Several EO based national missions such as Rajiv Gandhi National Drinking Water Mission, Wasteland Mapping, Watershed Monitoring Projects, Crop Acreage and Production Estimation (CAPE), Satellite based Potential Fishery Zone assessment etc could provide input for the policy, developmental planning, monitoring and evaluation.

In the country, Panchayat Raj Institutions (PRIs) are empowered for the rural development at the grassroots. A transition is already on to empower the local community in this connection. To enable such transition, efforts must be in place to harmonize poverty alleviation, food security and natural resources development with empowerment and livelihood supports of rural populace. Putting such paradigms into the operational domain, however is knowledge intensive and calls for better contextual information, with spatial and attribute information, unfolding the linkages among natural resources endowment, opportunities for livelihood and empowerment.

Concluding Remarks

In the past few years, IT tools have profoundly altered our ability to obtain and utilize information, data, and knowledge. The speed of change in information technologies is far outpacing our understanding of their impacts on relationships among individuals, societies, and states. In particular, attempts to understand the impacts these technologies have on political interaction and policymaking processes have not yet been analyzed in detail.

The mindset in the forest sector in these regions has to change, in order for them to remain viable in the face of the challenges brought by ICT development. The use of ICT has helped drive the shift from top-down government concepts to more open network “governance,” which in turn has enabled ICT to influence governance. An increasingly complex and networked world requires an equally dense institutional infrastructure to facilitate international coordination. ICT provides many of the essential tools; however, it does not reduce the multiplicity of values and conflicts of interests that governance arrangements have to accommodate and manage. Technologies, moreover, evolve only when embedded in a social context and not independently. As organizational arrangements evolve considerably more slowly than technologies, it will take some more time for the technical possibilities of today to become fully integrated into national governance arrangements.

Dr. Sanjay Srivastava, IFS, Special Secretary, Information Technology, Jharkhand has written this article in his personal capacity.

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