«Forest Village» project
This ongoing project, initiated by Komi Regional Non-Profit Foundation Silver Taiga, encompasses six districts of Komi Republic – Priluzye District, Koigorogok, Ust-Kulom, Knyazhpogost, Udora, and Pechora Districts.
The idea implemented in the project is already expressed in its full name: “Integration of Rural Communities Around Economic Stabilization Based On Sustainable Use Of Natural Resources.”
Considering the opportunities of Komi villages, we place emphasis on sustainable use of natural resources, which lay at the basis of permanent and renewable economy of taiga villages and forest settlements. Surrounded by logging areas, they currently suffer from depletion of fish and hunting resources, growing unemployment at local logging companies, and disappearance of areas for traditional mushroom and berries gathering. All these factors contribute to increasing rural impoverishment.
However, this scenario can be quite different, and the Forest Village project aims to help change present situation by demonstrating positive examples of village population integration. Our goal is to combine local community initiative with scientific knowledge and successful practical experience from other districts to create a new, optimistic perspective of rural development.
The project has been already going on for two years; it includes 9 “model villages”, situated in remote, economically deprived administrative districts of Komi Republic. These include big villages Spasporub, Chernysh, and Verkholuzye in Priluzye district; Kazhim settlement in Koigorodok district; villages Bolshaya Pyssa, Priuralskoye and Byzovaya in Udora and Pechora districts; Turya and Puzla villages in Knyazhpogost and Ust-Kulom districts respectively.
“Project” human settlements vary in age, origin, traditions and customs, as well as in main sources of local income that have developed historically.
Agriculture and logging as former sources of livelihood
During the Soviet period, Puzla, Kazhim and Verkholuzye used to be logging sites, forest industry being their major employer and source of income. Spasporub, Bolshaya Pyssa, Priuralskoye and Luzovaya were more focused on agriculture. In some villages, like Chernysh and Turya, agriculture and forestry developed simultaneously.
General decline in forestry and agriculture caused drastic growth of unemployment. According to data from Komi municipal agencies, during the period from 1994 to 2007, the number of job cuts in agriculture grew from 59 to 90%, and in forest industry – from 16% to 83%.
Village today – unemployment and poverty
Nowadays the number of unemployed workers is very high in project forest villages, though many people have managed to adapt to new conditions. Unfortunately, the income rate of working population is still close to poverty level.
The highest income among the villages included into the Project in registered in Puzla – average salary there is about 11000 rubles (as of 2008), which is twice more than Russian state minimum wage. However, in most villages, a salary does not exceed 7000 rubles.
A much lower figure (actually, lower than poverty level which was slightly above 6000 rubles by January 2009) makes per capita income: 4000-4500 rubles on average, with the exception of Puzla and Kazhim, where it is slightly higher. Retirement pension, which comes up to 2000 rubles in most villages, is included into the average income figure. In some villages – namely, Verkholuzye, Chernysh, Spasporub, Pyssa, and Byzovaya – pensions and other social benefits comprise half of people’s cash income.
Kazhim and Puzla are the only villages where salary makes a substantial part of income – the result of better (compared to the rest) industrial basis and relatively high employment rate. Population in Spasporub, Pyssa, Priuralsky and Byzovaya is often engaged in working outside the area; such jobs include rotational team employment at logging and oil extraction sites, as well as some other fields of economy in towns and district centres.
Existing potential – how do they use it?
This data, as well as other facts and figures, was collected during a survey that took place in the first year of Project implementation and included local population. It was done to ensure adequate planning of the programme and to get a ‘real’ picture, which is often very different from the official one; to understand the current socio-economic situation in the village; to estimate how rationally local natural resources are used; and, finally, to work out a plan for village development in each particular case.
The study of the present socio-economic situation in the project villages helped to figure out the development potential and limitations of the villages.
In addition to the main fields – forestry and agriculture – it may be possible to develop some new fields of business: effective use of non-timber forest products (berries and mushrooms), development of local craftsmanship, as well as rural tourism (trips to the forest, eco- or ethno-tourism).
Among the main obstacles to entrepreneurship development, the locals named lack of skills and knowledge (mostly legal and economic), absence of potential target market, and bureaucracy. Considering this, the main project goals in supporting the local initiative today are:
- organizing educational seminars;
- demonstrating successful examples of other rural entrepreneurs and stimulating experience exchange;
- helping to write business plans and to register a new business;
- assisting in finding potential investors and target markets.
Traditional forest management as a source of livelihood for remote villages
Some forest villages, particularly in Udora District, still depend greatly on the traditional forest management, namely hunting and fishery. At the same time, the Russian legislation does not view these activities as legal. Often the areas that have been used by the villagers for centuries are handed over to logging companies without any concern about the local population needs. The data, collected during the period of project implementation, and mapping of land traditionally used for hunting and fishing both help to evaluate the importance of traditional forest management for villagers in Pyssa, Politovo, Melentyevo, and Muchkas. It creates a foundation for further acknowledgement and protection of the territories vitally important for survival of people in these remote areas.
Big business and forest village
Economic situation in forest villages, as well as opportunities for further sustainable development of the territory, greatly depend on the large companies working in the area. This includes the size of the business’ contribution to local economy and its people-oriented approach. In 2009 three out of six districts included into the project were surveyed in connection with the impact of Mondi Syktyvkar on the socio-economic situation in the villages. The results of the survey showed that the company, though possessing tools for influencing sustainable development of the area, does not use them to the full or does not consider them at all. It might seem strange, as the company is currently the major forest enterprise in Komi. The results were discussed with the representatives of “Mondi Group” and management of Mondi Syktyvkar, and both parties agreed that the problem needs to be solved. As a result, the company declared its readiness to cooperate with local population in building the basis for sustainable development of the area.
Public hearings and Community Forest Council
People participation is an important condition for village integration. It is absolutely necessary to involve the local population in decision making process while defining the policies for forest management. This participation has proved to be more active when the village has a certain public organization, which represents interests of different population groups. Considering this, there is an idea of establishing Community Forest Councils that would act locally in the districts. There are positive examples already: such Councils have started in Priluzye and Udora, and they have proved to be effective mechanisms uniting villagers who are socially active. The latter as a rule include common people, local businessmen, and authorities who are interested in rational use of forests on local and regional levels.
The project supports people initiatives by organizing seminars and workshops, as well as practicing public hearings and Community Forest Council meetings.
There is another programme, which main objective is to help development of people cooperation within the local community. It is called “Village Ecology” and it has been adapted for introduction in forest villages and other settlements of the Republic. The programme is aimed at uniting people of different generations, and it has a great educational value.
An important step towards integration and collaboration was made with the introduction of Forest Dialogues. This initiative was supported and further continued within the framework of the Project on the Republic level after the successful International Forest Dialogue “Forests and Welfare of Rural Population” (22-24 October, 2008).
Komi Forest Dialogue became a working platform for meetings and round-table discussions for various participants (local people, authorities, logging companies’ representatives, other specialists, etc.) Such meetings encourage collaboration, especially in finding ways to solve current problems of the village. In 2009, there were three 2-day Forest Dialogues; the topics of discussions varied: development of local self-administration in rural areas; the role of large-scale forest companies in rural development; alternative use of pristine forest massives. Conclusions and suggestions, made during these discussions, have been further used in Project development.
Silver Taiga hopes to find active support from the local population; specialists can help identify the opportunities and build the basis for rural revival, but real change can be brought only by the villagers themselves.
Integration of rural communities around economic stabilization based on sustainable use of natural resources.
Project implementing period
April 1st, 2008 – March 31st, 2011
Komi Regional Non-Profit Foundation “Silver Taiga”
Source of funding
Ford Foundation www.fordfound.org
Dmitriyeva Tamara — Head of Regional Economy department at the Institute of Socio-Economic Problems of the North, Syktyvkar. PhD in Geology. Within the frameworks of the Project, responsible for socio-economic evaluation of the forest villages’ resource potential. Active member of the Project Working Group.
Yershov Alexander — Resident of Usogorsk settlement, Udora district. Actively involved with social movement “Komi Voityr”. Interested in problems of protection of legal rights of indigenous people, particularly taken into account in their cooperation with large-scale forest businesses.
Ignatova Yelena — Teacher of Russian and Literature in Puzla, Ust-Kulom district. Coordinates work of the Village Council – the body of territorial social self-administration in Puzla. Active member of the Project Working Group.
Kosolapova Tatyana — Teacher, Deputy Head of Local Administration in Chernysh, Priluzye district. Coordinates the process of adaptation and introduction of the educational program “Village Ecology”. Active member of the Project Working Group
Loginov Albert — Resident of Bolshaya Pyssa, Udora district. Deputy of Council in Udora municipal district. Engaged in many programs implemented within the Project’s framework; particularly interested in problems of legal rights of indigenous people and preservations of territories traditionally managed by them. Active member of the Project Working Group.
Makarova Tamara — Journalist, lawyer, press correspondent of Zarya Timana in Sosnogorsk, vice-chairman of social organization Save Pechora River Committee. Actively involved in many programs centred around development of people participation in forest management and development of self-administration in villages.
Nesterova Nina — Professor at Syktyvkar State University, PhD in History, associate professor. Deputy minister of Education of Komi Republic. Active member of the social movement “Indigenous Women of Komi”. Engaged in the Project as a specialist in organizing and developing rural tourism.
Nizovtseva Natalia — Head of village cooperative society in Spasporub, Priluzye district. Deputy of Council in Priluzye municipal district. Active member of the Project Working Group.
Pystina Yevdokiya — Resident of Priuralskoye village, Pechora district. Teacher of Additional education, deputy of the Village Council. Involved in adaptation and introduction of the educational program “Village Ecology” into the school curriculum as part of additional education. Actively engaged in Project programs aimed at local and territorial self-administration development, as well as rural tourism development.
Serditov Konstantin — Journalist, press correspondent of Znamya Truda in Priluzye district. Head of Priluzye department of social organization “Komi Voityr”. Member of the Forest Council in Priluzye. Involved in various programs within the Project framework. In charge of future editing of the Forest Council – a thematic addition to the Znamya Truda newspaper. Active member of the Project Working Group.
Improvement of the economic situation on the basis of the natural resources – an approach adapted to the local conditions.
Searching for the new opportunities for improvement of the economic status of the village in the market conditions.
Proposal of the new approaches, adapted to the local conditions, and developed together with the project Working group.
Sustainable forest management at the local level and its contribution to the local economy.
Economic analysis of the forest sector development options and importance of these options for the village economy.
Protection of the important for the local population places rich in mushrooms and berries and proper forest management on these territories.
Inclusion of the issue related to the discovery and protection of the important for the local population places rich in mushrooms and berries in the Forest plan of the Komi Republic and forestry units’ regulations, as well as coordination and determination of the forestry modes for them.
Training of the forestry and local self-government specialists and provision of support for the discovery of the popular places for mushrooms and berries gathering in the selected regions.
Economically profitable use of forest resources.
Determination and holding a competition for the future organizational and financial support of the initiative business projects at the local level.
The rules on access to the key forest resources for the local economy, based on the traditional nature use.
Description of the traditional use of natural resources; analysis of its importance for the local economy.
Methods of the village integration and development (formation) of the positive examples.
Organization of a series of workshops and trainings for the representatives of the local population, local self-government, district administrations, and government agencies devoted to the preparation and carrying out of the public hearings, summarizing of their results, as well as the following systematic methodological support of the announced public hearings in the selected regions of the Komi Republic.
Social Forest Council.
Initiation and creation of the Social Forest Council in the Koygorodsky region of the Komi Republic and organization of the experience exchange between the existing and newly created councils.
Village ecology – educational and development program
Implementation of the educational program “Village ecology” in the selected rural settlements with participation of the local schools and local self-government provided the methodological and organizational project support.
Positive experience dissemination.
Local and regional levels.
Dissemination is the key project component due to the remote position of the rural forest settlements, limited access of the villagers to the modern means of communication and low level of trust to the mass media. All positive examples, suggested and developed within the frames of the project, as well as the ones created by the other initiatives, are planned to be included in the active system of the positive experience dissemination. This system should be based on the working examples, demonstration-study tours and workshops, conducted by the persons of public trust. Direct experience dissemination should also cover the regions neighboring with Komi, namely Arkhangelsk and Kirov regions.
Sharing of knowledge and experience through the active cooperation with the local population by means of workshops, trainings, study excursions, as well as direct participation of the recipients interested in the preparation and carrying out of the relevant activities.
The Russian Federation – Model forests and other initiatives.
General results should be popularized more widely. In such a large country as Russia experience transfer can be efficient if it will be addressed to the organizations in interest and projects having the training component. The planned network of the Model forests in Russia implying creation of 30 new Model forests declaring sustainable forest management can be used as an instrument for such dissemination of the new experience. Social stability and development of the local communities is declared in the Model forests, but the sources of financial support for this direction are still not clear. Komi Model forest and Silver Taiga Foundation are planning to provide the accumulated experience for the new Model forests. This can become a great opportunity for dissemination of the accumulated experience on the local population.
Transfer of the accumulated project experience to the Model forests existing in Russia by means of the workshop organization in the Komi Republic.