The practice of joint forest management through forest protection committees – Van Samrakshana Samitis (VSS), as they are called in Andhra Pradesh, faced some practical challenges with the conclusion of the first phase of funding by the World Bank in September 2000. The AFPRO-SDC project to better the relationship between forests and the people (operational since 1998) took this as a learning ground; all 14 local partners under the project were able to sustain the interests of the 120VSS.
In some VSS areas, harassments by forest officials on false charges of theft and smuggling have not stopped. Changing roles whereby communities become more active on management aspects are not yet grasped or accepted by the officials. However, VSS are emerging as strong local level institutions. A clear distinction has emerged between the JFM and the non-JFM areas. Women in the JFM areas are more articulate, participating ‘in community activities and aware about their rights. In ecological terms, the JFM areas report increased floral growth and lesser incidence of fires and illegal activities. However, its impact on poverty levels has been negligible. This is where the income generation projects come in to give a certain amount of succor to the VSS members. In the year of reporting, training on collecting, processing and marketing minor forest produce and an exposure trip to Odisha to understand the working of community forest management helped to keep interests high in evolving new ways to use forests in an enduring manner.