Major Projects

Forests and Tribals: Their Changing Character in Gujarat (1947-2006)

WaterAidThe forest map and tribal map overlap in the eastern hilly region of Gujarat. The objectives of this project were: to identify the changes since 1947 in the forest areas of forest cover; to study the impact of forestry and deforestation on the livelihood of the tribal population in the area; to study the impact of the Forest Department, Joint Forest Management, Forest Co-operatives and related policies on the forests and the tribals in the area; to investigate the nature and historical background of the tribal struggles in the area; and to present the findings and policy recommendations for sustainable tribe-forest relationship in the area.

WaterAidCovering eighteen districts of mainland Gujarat (i.e., Gujarat excluding Saurashtra and Kachchh), the study area is divided into five regions. Secondary data were obtained from various sources: (i) processed satellite imagery for 1972, 1990, 2000 and 2007, (ii) Census of 1971 and 2001 for the forest areas and tribal population, (iii) Working Plans of the Forest Department, Government of Gujarat, and (iv) data received from various offices of Deputy Conservator of Forests (DCF), Government of Gujarat, within the study area. Primary data were collected from 180 villages.

The following significant results were achieved.

WaterAidThere is a belief that forests are only degrading and not regenerating. However, our study shows that nearly 22% of the forests have witnessed regeneration, almost 41% show degradation or destruction of forests, and the remaining 37% stand unchanged, i.e., neither degraded and nor regenerated.


WaterAidThe forest areas have shown an increasing tendency of regeneration since 1990. Comparison of satellite imagery between 1990 and 2007 yields encouraging results. However, such regeneration is often mono-cultural for commercial exploitation, thereby denying any benefit to a larger section of tribals.

Prima facie, the links between changes in the forests and among the tribals are not strong even with increase in the forest area due to regeneration. The migration of tribals for livelihood is found all across the study area. This observation becomes clearer when we relate the increase and decrease in the forest area to the migratory pattern of the tribal communities. Their migration does not appear to be much dependent on forests and their coverage any more. Even where there is no change in the forest area, the migration has been observed to be more than double (37.69%): (16.43%) and than where forests have increased and 20.21% where decreased. It appears that in recent times the tribals are not dependent for their livelihood entirely on the forests or forest products but on alternative sources of livelihood such as dairy farming, horticulture, and agriculture applying modern techniques like drip irrigation and better seeds. This observation has to be seen in the light of continued alienation of tribals from the forests, who had no way out except migrating seasonally, temporarily or permanently in search of livelihood. Many live in the periphery of urban spaces and engaged with jobs in the informal sector such as construction and power looms.

WaterAidA section of the tribal youth over time has reduced their dependence on the forest for livelihood. Most of the tribal youth, after getting educated, are not ready to work in their native villages. They want to leave the village and get jobs in towns and cities.




This study was conducted by Lancy Lobo and Jayesh Shah and has resulted in the book, Forests and Tribal’s Livelihood: Their Changing Character, Delhi: Orient Blackswan (in press).