“If we don’t save our forests, then our livestock will starve. Where will the rain come from if the trees aren’t large enough to store water?” exclaimed Kapoori, a young woman living in the small village of Bhoanta-Kolyala, Rajasthan. “That’s why we only use dry wood and leaves that have fallen to the ground. We rarely take anything from the tree itself.”
I was amazed by the amount of ecological knowledge that this woman possessed about the forests that surrounded her village. Reflecting on my own education, I realized that I did not understand ecological theory until I took upper-level biology courses in high school. However, here was Kapoori, a woman without a high school education, lecturing me on the concepts of sustainable harvesting and watershed regeneration.
Bhoanta-Kolyala, a small pastoral community set in the Aravalli hills of Rajasthan, has been working together to conserve its surrounding forest cover and water resources for the past twenty years. With the help of the NGO Tarun Bharat Sangh, Bhoanta-Kolyala formed a village governing body, termed a gram sabha, to create rules on how to preserve the village’s natural resources as well as to serve as a forum for village discussions. Through these gram sabha meetings, Bhoanta-Kolyala was one of the first villages in the region to institute a set of laws to preserve its natural resources.
For one, the village has prohibited the cutting of any trees that fall within its jurisdiction; fines ranging from 101 INR to 1500 INR, depending on the frequency and level of lopping, are charged to anyone who is caught chopping down trees. Second, villagers from Bhoanta-Kolyala are only allowed to use and remove dry branches and leaves that have fallen to the ground; they are not permitted to cut any leaves or timber for their daily livelihood needs. Thanks to these restrictions, most people in the village agree that the forests have significantly improved in quality over time. Instead of an almost barren landscape with a sprinkling of trees, Bhoanta-Kolyala has transformed its land into a healthy forest that provides enough dry wood and leaves for all of its citizens’ livelihood requirements. In addition, with help from Tarun Bharat Sangh, Bhoanta-Kolyala has built multiple dams and wells, which provide an abundant supply of water for both household needs and crop irrigation.