Creating regional community protection for a Biosphere Reserve

Community Conservation
Published: 28 October 2015
Last edited: 02 October 2020
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Creating community protection addressed the problem of major deforestation in Assam, India forests due to a complex political problem of militants threatening government forestry staff. Community meetings, seminars for communities, NGOs and government and Biosphere celebrations helped communities form groups and become strong conservationist partners to support the Assam government. When an accord was signed community groups worked with the new tribal government.


South Asia
Scale of implementation
Forest ecosystems
Temperate evergreen forest
Habitat fragmentation and degradation
Indigenous people
Local actors
Species management
Land and Forest degradation
Lack of public and decision maker’s awareness
Poor monitoring and enforcement
Poor governance and participation
Social conflict and civil unrest


Assam, India
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deforestation and political instability There was major deforestation due to an open access situation resulting from political instability. It was necessary to work with many communities adjacent to the Biosphere and interact with many other stakeholders including regional NGOs, government and militant groups until the political situation resolved itself.


The central Government of India, Assam State Government, Bodo Territorial Council and community groups

How do the building blocks interact?

Community meetings of the Golden Langur Conservation Project began the process to involve communities in the conservation of their region. Seminars and workshops that included the communities, NGOs and government staff began to form a team of stakeholders based on equality and trust. Unifying government, NGOs and communities in a common conservation purpose is the most powerful team. These meeting/workshops led to a crescendo of regional interest which culminated in four celebrations coordinated by local communities across the Manas Biosphere Reserve, giving rise to conservation contagion. Within that time and atmosphere communities formed groups and joined the project. With the militants signing an accord and ceasefire, the Bodoland Territorial Council (BTC) was elected and with Green Forest Conservation formed the first Bodoland Forest Protection force in the Biosphere. Soon other CBOs followed and eventually 18 CBOs formed the United Forest Conservation Network to work with the BTC and the Assam Forest Department to protect the entire Manas Biosphere and other forests inhabited by golden langurs.


Following many community meetings, community-based organizations (CBOs) began to develop on their own to work with the project. They began to work on conservation actions and livelihood actions as we presented them with possibilities. In some cases they began to patrol areas and/or stop encroachers and confiscate illegal materials on their own cognizance. During the first Manas Biosphere celebration, the on-site communities showed resistance to anyone other than the on-site community organizing the celebrations, setting a precedent for local control over the following celebrations. Villager participation increased with each celebration from 5,000 to 8,000 to 20,000 to 35,000 participants. When the project negotiated for establishing a forest protection force under Green Forest Conservation (CBO) at Kachugaon with the new Bodoland Territorial Council in 2005, other community groups began patrolling their regions as volunteers. Later they were incorporated into the system. Finally, a complete census of the golden langurs showed an increase from 1500 langurs in 1999 to 5600 in 2009. Elephant and tiger surveys also showed population stability.


One evening I visited the Assam Forest office in Kuklung. It was dark due to electric failure and as I entered, a man met and held my gaze, then stooped to touch my shoes with both his hands, a gesture of honor. I was surprised by this stranger’s action but later I heard that he had worked against the deforestation and he knew who I was and my mission. The next morning we returned to talk to members of the Kuklung community, telling them about their special golden langurs and how we needed their help to protect their forest. Later, as I was getting ready to leave Assam to return to the US, I received a telephone call from Arnab Bose of Nature’s Foster. He was surprised and puzzled by what had happened after our visit but he related to me that the Kuklung villagers had stopped the illegal loggers in the Manas Reserve Forest and had confiscated 22 bullock carts and logs under their own cognizance. I was also unsure of the action but I thought for a moment and replied that I think that was a positive action on their part. They had taken our words as permission to stop those who were stealing their forest. Soon after that, those men formed the Raigajli Ecotourism & Social Welfare Society. The next year when I visited I saw the camp they had just built where their forest protectors were living. They had begun to patrol and protect the Manas Reserve Forest, north of Kuklung, that had never had any protection before. I was happy to hear that because like other Reserve Forests of the Manas Biosphere you could see hundreds of bicycles loaded with hundreds of pounds of fire wood streaming out of the forest before dusk. When I returned in the second year to visit the Raigajli camp they told me a frightening story of how over a hundred illegal loggers had attacked them and destroyed their camp but they had rebuilt it already. Later in that visit they had another tale of violence. While their men were patrolling the forest, an illegal logger warned his men and they felled a tree to block the forest protector’s patrol truck. As the protectors were moving the obstructing log, they were set upon by a gang of encroachers and beaten badly so they had to be taken to the hospital to recuperate from their head wounds. Such conflicts and deforestation eventually disappeared.

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April Sansom

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Rob Horwich
Community Conservation