The Baripada village is situated in the Dhule district of Maharashtra in the western peninsular region of India. It is surrounded by 445 hectares of dry deciduous forest with a rich vegetation comprising floral species such as teak, Leucas cephalotes, Butea monosperma, Erythrina orientalis, Careya arborea, Madhuca longifolia, Azadirachta indica etc. The fauna includes panther (Panthera pardus), black-naped hare (Lepus nigricollis), monitor lizard (Varanus), etc. Earlier, the Baripada Van Suraksha Samiti had been managing the 445 hectares of forests, however, since 2019, the Baripada Van Suraksha Samiti along with JFMC has been conserving and managing approximately 250 hectares of the forest while the rest of the forest is being managed by the neighbouring Manjeri village. These forests provide ecological services such as carbon storage, nutrient cycling, water and air purification, and maintenance of wildlife habitat.
Since the 1980s, indiscriminate felling of teak and other tree species, mostly by people from outside the village had disrupted the supply of fuel wood. Additionally, unregulated grazing by the community’s livestock in the forest had diminished forest undergrowth and dried out a third of the 35 wells catering to 108. In the absence of other livelihood options, women turned to liquor production as a source of secondary income, and soon, its consumption led to social disquiet in the village. It became imperative for the community to understand the need to rejuvenate the forests and the impact of deforestation on their access to dry wood, fruits and other minor forest produce.
The Baripada Van Suraksha Samiti (Forest Protection Committee or FPC), comprising 10 members from the community, and a representative from the forest department as secretary, was set up in 1991 with the primary objective to regenerate forest cover and recover the water table around the village. This was achieved through the mobilization of the community members and adopting a set of strict rules and regulations. A ban was imposed on firewood extraction, the entry of vehicles in forest areas and on grazing. Guards were assigned on a rotational basis in to patrol the forest area. All offenders, whether they were inhabitants of Baripada or other villages, were duly fined for contravention. Subsequent changes were made to allow biological resource extraction for social and religious purposes with prior permission and grazing in specific areas. The forest department extended the Joint Forest Management Committee (JFMC) scheme to the village in 1998 and Baripada utilised it to establish a jaggery production unit that employs youth from the community. In 2003, an NGO called Jan Seva Andolan assisted the women in commencing a fish-farming cooperative using the common village pond which helped terminate liquor production. In 2004, a plant biodiversity register documented plants in 14 different sites of the forest area. Species like Tectona grandis, Korfad, Ghaypat, among others, have been planted under JFM in the community protected forest. The village is now using solar energy to reduce dependence on firewood. An annual biodiversity festival is held to create awareness on the variety and uses of local biodiversity. The community applied for Community Forest Rights (CFR) under the Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006, which recognizes the Community Forest Rights (CFR) to use, manage and conserve forest resources. The provisions under section 3(1) and section 5 of the Act together with Rule 4e give rights and responsibility to the Gram Sabha for sustainable use and conservation of biodiversity & wildlife. The Baripada Gram Sabha secured CFR titles for 445 hectares of forest land and instituted the Community Forest Rights Management Committee (CFRMC) for effective management of the forest resources, which comprises representatives solely from amongst the community members.
The initiatives have had significant ecological impact. The forest land has regenerated with trees well over 30 feet high and rich undergrowth. Population and diversity of flora and fauna has increased considerably. Illicit extraction of forest resources by the villagers has stopped. Check dams in the forest to retain rainwater and prevent soil erosion and a series of water reservoirs have been constructed which supply water to the village annually. The conservation efforts have helped reduce water run-off and the water tables have risen phenomenally. In 1990, people had to travel 3 hours on foot to the nearest water source, but the village now has enough water for itself and supplies water to five other villages. Before the initiatives, only 15 hectares of land could be irrigated and used for agriculture. However, with the rise in water tables, approximately 120 hectares of land can be irrigated. The community has undertaken various livelihood generation initiatives such as, production of jaggery, poultry farm, bee farming and collection of lac (resin) from trees. The village has created a corpus from the fines they have collected which is loaned to families in need. Several hamlets near Baripada have been motivated to adopt Baripada's pioneering model of collective conservation.
The Van Suraksha Samiti, won the India Biodiversity Awards under the category ‘Community Stewardship’ in 2014.
Neema Pathak Broome