Note:  Associate Professor, Department of Geography-Anthropology University of Southern Maine E-mail: [email protected]
Abstract: In addition to ecosystem services, forests supply essential resources such as timber and non-timber forest products to rural populations who live nearby. These resources contribute vitally to household energy, materials, and various nutritional and medicinal requirements. In many parts of the developing world, women are assigned the task of acquiring these resources. Eco-feminism has used an essentialist position to explain the relation between forests and rural women. This paper, however, argues for the adoption of an institutional ecology approach to clarify patterns of interaction between rural communities and forests. Such an approach focuses on the role played by institutions, civil society, and individuals in environmental exchanges. Using field observations and data from western India, the paper examines the complex arrangement of interactions between rural populations and forest ecosystems, which is mediated by state institutions and long-standing socio-cultural norms and traditions. Data and field observations reveal considerable dependency on forest products in local villages. Patterns of society-forest interaction refl ect local sociocultural and political realities, and reveal the vulnerabilities faced by certain— more dependent and socio-economically marginal—communities, especially the adivasis.