Sustainable MOUNTAINS, resilient COMMUNITIES. « Jana Aastha News Online
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९ आश्विन २०७९, आईतवार
|  Sun Sep 25 2022
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९ आश्विन २०७९, आईतवार
|  Sun Sep 25 2022

Sustainable MOUNTAINS, resilient COMMUNITIES.

प्रकाशित मिति :  २९ फाल्गुन २०७८, आईतवार १२:४२


International Mountain Day is celebrated annually to promote awareness for mountain communities around the globe. The theme of this year is sustainable mountain tourism. And whether it is mountain communities as whole on tourism in particular life in the Himalayas the biggest mountain in the world revolves around the communities that live in it whether nomads and sherpas in the high or farmers in the foothills.

For the ecologically and economically fragile mountain villages to survive, it is imperative that communities are made resilient. Sustainable mountain tourism is just one facet of this resilience, a study of villages bordering Jim Corbett National Park and Bhimtal in Uttarakhand has shown.

By Asha Ramachandran & C. K. Nayak

As a deer darted across the road skirting the Jim Corbett National Park, the driver of the oncoming SUV hastily slammed the brakes. Caught in the full glare of the vehicle’s headlights, the deer’s startled eyes remained in the minds of the car’s occupants long after the chital, or spotted deer, had bounded away. A lucky escape for the stag, but it brought home a strong message about the thin line dividing nature and development.

The next morning, meeting the residents of adjoining villages, a group of researchers couldn’t help but be reminded of the startled deer’s eyes. They quickly realized the skewed benefits that development, including tourism, had brought to the communities that had inhabited the area for hundreds of years. His eyes wearing a far-away look, Bhupendra Singh (Kaka) Bisht, a 72-year- old farmer from Malla Baur village of Mohan district, bordering the world-famous Corbett National Park in Uttarakhand, asserted he had seen better days. “Agriculture was our mainstay of livelihood,” he recounted. “We grew wheat, rice and medhua (ragi) as well as dhania (coriander) and jeera (cumin). We had cows and goats. The jungle was good and the crops were good.” Today, he points to empty, fallow fields all around.

Rising education levels have lured the younger generation to seek better prospects in cities. Increasing tourism in the area has also taken away young men and women, as they are employed by the Park as guides and drivers, thanks to their knowledge of the terrain. The tourist resorts are another source of jobs for them. The women and older men left behind find it difficult to tend to their fields. They are also unable to protect their fields and cattle from wild animals that stray from the protected Park. “Earlier, there were more farmers to collectively guard the fields and fend off boars and deer that rampaged the crops,” informed Saraswati Devi, an elderly woman from the village. “Now with scattered fields and fewer hands to guard them, the animals destroy whatever little we grow.”

The number of cattle heads has also depleted as the villagers can ill- afford to sustain them, In addition, a ban on cattle sale downhill has also led to problems. Interestingly, Bisht said large cattle herds were also a deterrent against wild animals, including tiger and leopard. “Now, the stray cows, buffaloes and goats are easy pickings for the big cats, which even boldly enter villages,” he said. Ironically, increased tourism has brought in several benefits. It has seen a higher income generation, thanks to more job opportunities. Not just jobs but a higher tourist footfall have led to several homesteads coming up. Rural produce, including food items and handicraft find a ready market. Several NGOs are also working with the village folk to look at alternative livelihood and also promote their traditional crafts.

A similar yet slightly contrasting situation was seen near another popular tourist destination in Uttarakhand, Bhimtal, which falls under the Nainital district. A study of two villages – Hedia Bedia and Alchouna — by Associates to a leadership training programme conducted by LEAD (Leadership for Environment and Development), an international network of professionals and organisations/institutions, committed to the cause of development, threw up another facet, but with the underlying thread of vulnerability from a degrading traditional agriculture and livelihood resources.

At Hedia Bedia, located around 3 km from Bhimtal, the agricultural land is very poor. The only water available to this region is through rainwater harvesting. Yet, agriculture remains the mainstay of the households in the village. Income for a socially excluded community in the village has been historically supplemented by bamboo handicraft, agricultural implements and goods for domestic use that are sold in the local market.

The villagers have traditionally collected Ringal, a fast-growing dwarf bamboo variety that grows naturally in the nearby forest areas, to weave items of daily utility. The problems faced here include difficulty in collecting bamboo from the forests, which fall under government protection. Moreover, the products made in the village have limited markets and fetch a relatively low price. With the young migrating to the cities, fewer people are taking up this traditional craft, which is slowly dying.

The other village, Alchouna, located around 6 km from Bhimtal, is surrounded by 15 hectares of community forest, whose resources are of vital use to the villagers. The community forest serves as a grazing ground for the livestock of villagers and Alchouna enjoys a high productivity of milk, which is supplied to the Uttarakhand Dairy Corporation. Despite all this prosperity, the village suffers from a damaged irrigation system, leading to shortage of clean drinking water. Loss of crop from wildlife is an issue here as well. People in this village are under a huge stress due to the commercial pressures brought in by a growing agriculture and dairy farm.

In the mountain regions, agriculture is the primary occupation and a major source of livelihood. But increased pressure on their precious resources, including livestock and forests, has made the rural communities here most vulnerable. Agriculture in the hills is rainfed and on small and fragmented landholdings ranging between 0.1 hectare and 0.4 hectare. Impacts of climate change in the form of erratic rainfall and prolonged dry seasons have affected crop diversity and in turn food security. Increasing scarcity of water, poor fodder availability for livestock and limited knowledge about appropriate technologies have added to the woes.

Besides agriculture and forest, community forest is one of the most important sources of food and fodder. Community forests are managed by Van Panchayats, a credible local community-based institution for forest management that is recognized under Indian Forest Act, 1927. A Van Panchayat is a forest area delineated as community forest and named after the village it belongs to and is handed over to the communities for management. This can also play an effective role in spearheading an alternative livelihood model.

World over, there is a deep relationship between forests and people. In India, forests meet 40 percent of domestic fuel wood needs, 80 percent of which is utilized in rural areas. Forest products provide sustenance to the rural poor and for the landless farmer, this is often the primary source of income. In Uttarakhand alone, 83 percent of energy is from fuel wood and 38.5 percent of fodder for livestock is derived from forests. However, all this is not reflected in the country’s GDP. While the contribution of forests to GDP is said to be 1-2.5 per cent, most times it is intangible and, in reality, it is much higher, forest conservation officials say.

One of the biggest challenges before the forest department is to maintain balance between environment protection and development. Moreover, with increasing human- animal conflict, it becomes a major issue in the hills. So much so that people have even abandoned agriculture. Uttarakhand, officials state, is a success story in forest conservation but a failure as far as livelihood for villagers from forest sources is concerned. Earlier, forests would be cleared in order to settle people. Now, with the focus on conservation, the forests are being regenerated, which is good for wildlife but makes life difficult for people living in the area for centuries.

With agriculture not being so remunerative as it has never been a commercial venture in the hills, it is but natural for younger and educated people to migrate to towns in search of better income. But then, in traditional agriculture, farmers know quite a few tricks of the trade. However, with no market linkages, agriculture is a poor income generator. Moreover, with fewer hands and difficulty to fend off wild animals, which seek refuge in shrubs and bushes that are not cleared, collective farming, including sowing and harvesting, is a dying tradition.

Virendra Singh Rana, an elderly farmer from Tolio village in Mohan district bordering the Corbett National Park, has found his own solutions to the wild animal problem and has successfully implemented them. “Grow crops that monkey don’t eat, such as Bhindi (Okhra) and Karela (Bitter gourd),” he advises. “Intercropping also helps. An outer row of ginger deters wild boars. Moreover, the red mud in this area is very fertile and requires less water. Also, we traditionally dump animal dung from our livestock on the farms and this serves as excellent manure.”

Researchers have recommended that the forest department, instead of focusing on conservation, should associate villagers for benefit sharing. For instance, the current forest rules do not allow people to take out medicinal plants and sell them commercially. However, if this were allowed, it would be difficult for the forest department to regulate the collection.

The state forest department is supporting local livelihood by creating a medicinal plants conservation area (MPCA) and medicinal plants development area (MPDA). The main purpose of creating MPCA is to ensure long-term conservation of wild medicinal and aromatic plants in their natural habitats. MPCAs offer protection to plant species that are in high demand and are at risk of becoming extinct. No grazing, fuel or fodder collection is allowed in the MPCAs, only seed collection.

However, the question before the forest officials is how to engage the community. Most forest officials are not clear about the guidelines under the Forest Conservation Act. There is also no sustainable market for the medicinal plants. With no regulated system to reach the market, middlemen reap benefits by directly approaching the villagers to collect the plants. However, officials recognize that there is a huge scope for livelihood expansion. Officials at the nearby Indian Medicines Pharmaceutical Ayurvedic factory, which is coordinating with an NGO, Bharatiya Aushadyala Sangrakshan evam Vikas Samity, said a scheme had been proposed to the National Medicinal Plants Board to recognize genuine farmers and not middlemen to supply medicinal plants to the factory. However, quality remains a problem. Farmers are not in a position to take the risks required.

In contrast, the Hedia Bedia village has been supported by a voluntary organization, Central Himalayan Environment Association (CHEA) for over 35 years now. With technical knowledge accessed through CHEA, the village is now well-known for bamboo handicraft products. They have diversified from traditional daily utility items and now make a variety of products. Earlier, the villagers took bamboo from the forests but now they grow Ringal, which is the raw material, on private land. This has helped the community to take the whole business of handicraft to sustainable livelihood.

Alchona may well be termed by some as a pampered village since the G B Pant Institute in Pantnagar has provided a lot of technical know-how to shift from traditional agricultural practices. However, the village has no support from any other external agency. In 1985, some members of the village received training from G B Pant Institute on vegetable cultivation, because of which seasonal vegetables are grown with improved cultivation practices, vastly improving their livelihood.

While modern farming methods and rainwater harvesting show the way forward, officials have a word of caution on suggestions for alternative livelihood. Before introducing anything new, one must be sensitive to local traditions and impact of ecology, they stress. Moreover, a good demonstration must be established, which would be the biggest motivator. Farmers, they say, are wise yet conservative. With half- baked information, they will only become more suspicious. Only tried and tested ideas should be introduced, they added.

Source: Himalayan News Chronicle

 


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