Strengthening Himalayan conservation initiatives to meet economic goals

PLANTATION

Shalini Dhyani, is a scientist with the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) – National Environmental Engineering Research Institute. The opinions expressed are her own and do not necessarily represent the views of the Indian government.

A community-based program in India’s Himalayan region is preserving livelihoods and boosting incomes for women, youth and the more vulnerable segments of society, while serving as a model for other at-risk forest areas.

Introducing a Livelihood Resource Centre (LRC) concept has the potential to enhance a sense of belonging among local the community for the forests where they have been dwelling for millenia.

The upper Kedar Valley in the Garhwal district of the state of Uttarakhand is characterized by extensive forest biodiversity, agro-biodiversity and indigenous spiritual and cultural diversity. The area also provides habitat to many threatened ungulates, plant, bird and animal species, including musk deer, snow leopard, the monal pheasant and the Himalayan Tahr.

The unique moist temperate forests and alpine habitats of the area have been subject to a heavy influx of tourists, pilgrims, local graziers, transhumant — the seasonal movement of people with their livestock between fixed summer and winter pastures — and the collection of biomass, which includes fuelwood, fodder, non-tropical forest products, leaf litter.

In June 2013, a tsunami devastated the region and had a massive economic impact on local people, many of whom are migrating due to food shortages, poverty and insecurity over their future wellbeing. Some families have been forced to leave their children in orphanages near Guptakashi, in the district of Rudraprayag Uttarakhand, as they are unable to look after them properly.

Increasing commercial tourism has also destabilized indigenous and traditional conservation values , severely affecting not only local livelihoods, but also the survival of many species. Villagers in the area depend on the forests for their various subsistence demands and live below the poverty line.

Dependence on seasonal tourism, forest based agriculture and selling forest based products (local storage articles made by Ringal bamboo, or by selling wild edibles collected from forests) means that improved resource management is crucial.

Over the past few years, a ban was imposed on overharvesting of some non-tropical forest products. Facing no livelihood options, local youth often get involved in illegal harvesting of resources or leave their villages and migrate to cities for low-paying jobs.

Improving the habitat integrity of these villages adjacent to forests while improving the incomes of the people that can help in managing ecosystem services is critical to help combat emigration from most of these areas along with better medical, education and other basic amenities. The aim is to improve community participation in forest management by enhancing local livelihoods so they can contribute to reducing the scope of many forest problems.

Biodiversity loss by habitat destruction is also a crucial issue in the valley and conservation of biodiversity can be ensured by linking conservation with livelihoods.

Our fodder bank-based model to reduce drudgery of rural hill women and pressure from forests serves as a model of active community participation in Maikhanda village.

It is also imperative to generate economic benefits from this  fodder bank l to elaborate the project I am enclosing one reference document. to ensure the sustainability and long term conservation goals of the valley forests. An integrated conservation and natural resource management program to empower the local community for sustainably managing these forests can be an effective option.

By using indigenous and traditional values as guidelines — with special consideration of cultural and spiritual values, — the goal of habitat and biodiversity conservation can be reached.

Establishing a long-term LRC with the active participation with locals of Panchayat village to integrate livelihood and conservation goals for strengthening Community Conservation Initiatives (CSI) is the first step.

Exploring locally available cost-effective resources for generating economic wellbeing and enhancing livelihood sources of locals by active community dialogue is the next step.

Instead of setting up demonstration projects, emphasis should be on regular capacity building programmes that include various activities that ensure that they are neither dependent nor supported by over harvesting of forest resources.

As well, there is a need to monitor the impact of each capacity-building programme among locals to understand their interests, choices and preferences. This will prevent programs being imposed on them without considering their overall shortcomings.

For example, instead of over harvesting high altitude  threatened bamboo varieties viz. Thama (Thamnocalamus pathiflorus) and Dev Ringal(T. jonsarensis) (for fulfilling such various daily need requirements as baskets, brooms and mats.) Gola (Drepanostachyum falcatum)— a low altitude easily available and easily propagated variety of bamboo can be used.

Due to over harvesting and depletion Dev and Thama ringal resource from high altitude forests handicraft articles such as key chains and miniature of traditional storage articles from Gola a low altitude variety can be made that have a better market value and can be easily prepared in bulk in less time..

The area is conducive to growing the resources to make dry flower book marks, greeting cards and conifer floral arrangements are low cost and easily prepared for the tourist market.

Through proposed income generating and livelihood enhancement activities socio-economic condition of the communities can be improved in a sustainable manner in coming years. Activities involved will contribute to the body of knowledge as well as equip communities with livelihood enhancement skills using the tourism and the market potential of the area.

Department of Science and Technology, Government of India, New Delhi and the Rufford Small Grants Programme, are acknowledged for their financial support.