Common Property Resources in Different Agro-Climatic Landscapes in India

It is well established that Common Property Resources (CPRs) are important sources of livelihood to rural households. Pioneering work by Jodha in the mid-1980s resulted in a spate of literature that has since highlighted the significance of CPRs not only as regular sources of income and employment, but also as safety nets in periods of scarcity, such as drought. Nonetheless, it is necessary to examine (a) the disaggregated use of CPRs across different agroclimatic zones, (b) the differential dependence on CPRs, by farmers with differential land holding, and (c) the legal access to CPRs.

We analyse the National Sample Survey Organisation’s (NSSO) 54th round data on CPRs based on a survey of 78,900 households from 5242 villages across the country. The insights that have emerged from the analysis are that CPR dependence is linked to the type of agro-climatic zone (whether hilly forested tracts, semiarid/ arid pastoral economies or intensive agriculture areas). The type of agro-climatic zone determines the nature of the dependence on CPRs: in very broad terms, while the hilly forested tracts show the greatest dependence on CPRs for products collected, the semi-arid and arid pastoral communities show the greatest dependence on CPRs as a source of fodder for grazing arid and hilly forested tracts people depend on de jure CPRs, in the case of the intensive agricultural areas (e.g., Punjab and Haryana), people depend on de facto CPRs such as private lands.

The disaggregated analysis across land holding categories (in terms of operational holdings) shows that the landless are by and large more dependant on CPRs than the landed, across all agro-climatic zones, and that this dependence is primarily for fuelwood. While nontimber forest products (NTFPs) are important to all households, in the Upper Gangetic belt, the landless are more dependent on CPRs for NTFP than are others. In terms of the monetary value of CPR collections, while the average value of CPR collections at the all-India level is Rs.693 annually, there are significant variations across agroclimatic zones. The annual gains from CPR collection are highest in the Western Himalayas (Rs.1939), followed by the Eastern Himalayas (Rs.1219). It is surprising that the value of CPR collection is also high in the intensively cultivated Upper Gangetic plains (Rs.1070), but with the important distinction that here only 30% of households collect CPR products. The data from the 54th round reinforces our understanding that CPRs are important and the study highlights certain concerns in each of the landscapes. For example, in the forested tracts, the key issue is access to forest produce and the evidence suggests that even in co-management schemes, the benefits to rural communities vis-à-vis the State are relatively insignificant. In the semi-arid areas, issues related to legal access to forest and pasture for fuelwood and grazing, and privatisation, remain central concerns even two decades after Jodha first discussed them.

There are certain limitations of the NSSO dataset on CPRs and we outline measures through which these limitations could be overcome in future rounds of data collection. The use of CPRs is often a struggle and contestation over access to resources that cannot be easily captured by numbers. There is need for more case study based research to explore certain tentative hypotheses that emerge from the analysis of the NSSO data. A more nuanced understanding should lead to more informed policy that could explicity address CPR-based livelihood strategies and could implicitly address conservation as well.

Originally published as:

Menon, A. and G.A Vadivelu. 2006. Common property resources in different agro-climatic landscapes in India. Conservation and Society 4(1):132–154.

This article is from issue


2007 Jul