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Home > Policy & Practices > The importance of managing Common Property Resources (CPRs)

The importance of managing Common Property Resources (CPRs)


West Bengal: Marginal and landless farming families of West Bengal suffer from chronic shortage of food, fodder and firewood, leading to male migration, which in turn increases the burden of work on women. The rapid disappearance of grazing lands along with reduced access to forests or common lands is creating an acute crisis for fodder. Conversely, common properties like fallow lands, water bodies, river and pond banks, embankments of irrigation canals, roads and railway tracks etc. either remain unutilized or are degraded due to overuse by communities, resulting in soil erosion and disruption of the local ecosystem. 

About six years ago, a local initiative began to revive fallow and degraded lands for use by local communities. Currently, across the State, this ‘common property resource (CPR) management’ has spread to over 50 groups comprising 1,055 members. CPR Management has been taken up with support from village panchayats. Altogether, a stretch of about 98 km of common property land has been planted with diverse trees and shrubs. In terms of the ecological benefit, large trees provide shelter and food to birds, small animals and insects. Plantations reduce green house gas emission, resist soil erosion to a large extent and act as a barrier to cyclonic storm for nearby crop fields. It also gives an opportunity to bring back the number of native tree species which were at the verge of extinction. If practiced on a mud embankment, like in Sunderbans, it gives protection against erosion.

In financial terms, the preparation of 5000 seedlings in a nursery cost Rs. 7000-8000 and their transplantation and protection an additional Rs 8000, excluding labour. These were the costs in each of the two CPR management initiatives in Ramganga and Sagarmadhabpur villages of Patharpratima block in district South 24 Paraganas in the Sunderbans. But the investment is worth it. In district Birbhum, for instance, the 3 panchayats of the district have adopted this model of growing community-managed multi-species, multi-purpose woodlots and are trying to promote this further through women’s self-help groups (SHGs). Some of these groups have already earned revenue of up to Rs. 3 lakhs by auctioning mature trees.


From a Gender Lens

Women shoulder most of the work in CPR Management, especially jobs requiring intense labour. The larger number of seeds, especially those of traditional varieties, are collected and preserved by women. Women prepare the nursery soil which includes packeting of soil, preparing the beds and placing the soil packets on them. Women sow the seeds and irrigating them, cut and prune the nursery plants, apply manure/compost and clay soil, transplant saplings from the nursery to the CPR field and are responsible for the day to day monitoring and maintenance of the CPR fields. Men share the earth works for plantation (digging pits). Inter-crop cultivation is also a woman’s job. Collecting fodder and firewood are mainly done by women and children.

At the same time this model has a number of financial, ecological, social, and empowering advantages for women in the long-term. It gives women economic freedom with minimal financial investment, though lots of investment of manual labour. In many places women have started selling saplings to augment their group fund. Women easily access fodder and firewood.  They also upgrade their skills of raising tree saplings, managing the commons and interacting with local governance bodies. On the flip side, women’s labour time and workload increases and they are still not part of the governance institutions which decide whether a CPR can be used by the community or not. CPRs are very helpful for landless women farmers as they can access firewood and fodder from these common areas and take up livestock management.



Policy Options


Village development plans should also include CPR Management and allocate funds for this. Government’s social forestry projects can involve villager in developing areas on the lines of CPRs and management of these can be give to local villagers with high involvement of women. Several public and private enterprises, take up social forestry as part of their Corporate Social Responsibility mandate. They can work with women groups/NGOs to manage these areas in a manner where they can use products and maintain the greenery. These areas can be leased to groups of landless women and of women in urban slums for this purpose. The state forest department and other departments need to promote a community-led model to make appropriate use of fallow lands alongside roads, embankments, football grounds, rail yards, wetlands, etc. The MGNREGA lends itself to this model and promotes gram sabhas and panchayats to take ownership of the commons to secure the livelihoods of its people. 

Each state government must promote use of MGNREGA provisions for CPR management from the village planning process upwards. CPRs need to be part of village development plans and municipality plans in urban areas. The plans need to incorporate use of CPRs to ensure income and empowerment to asset-less women. this will include land lease, access to credit and other inputs, capacity building and taking up of decision-making roles. In rural areas, this will also help strengthening the panchayat system itself. This intervention requires minimum investment by the State and can be widely extended with the help of non-governmental organizations and community groups.

Further Reading

1.    Resource organisation: DRCSC <http://www.drcsc.org>.