by Lenin Samuel,
Increasingly, it is being recognised by all stakeholders that for sustainable development to take place and for effective biodiversity conservation, all plans have to be grounded in the two important principles of Ecological Security and Livelihood Security. This is primarily because in a country like India, the livelihoods of the vast majority of rural population are directly dependent on natural resources and elements of biodiversity in them. Ecological security is critical because it provides for the survival of tens of thousands of species of plants and animals, as also the basic ecosystem services upon which human food, health, water, and cultural security are dependent. The intense interdependence between livelihood security and ecological security makes this segment of the rural population the primary rights- holders and stakeholders in biodiversity conservation with sustainable use. The women and men of communities living in bio-diverse areas have acquired rich indigenous ecological knowledge through generations of interaction with local ecosystems, which they have shaped, and which, in turn have shaped their cultures, lifestyles and livelihoods.
The Biodiversity Conservation and Rural Livelihood Improvement Project (BCRLIP) visualises a multi-sector and seemingly antagonistic, multi theme project on a landscape which has often been talked about but not addressed before in a time bound project mode. A brief foray into the sequence of events in the last few decades in the conservation sector is relevant, as these have led to the recognition of the need of a more inclusive management strategy. It is indeed this recognition that has brought home the need of scaling up conservation- management beyond the Protected Areas (PAs) to landscape level. Rural people, particularly the poor and under-privileged, also have found themselves at the receiving end of the shrinkage and degradation of natural ecosystems. Loss of productivity and decline in ecosystem services, especially hydrological cycles and water regime, has impaired the productivity of farms and pastures and undermined the availability of NWFP (non wood forest produce), making life difficult for those dependent on these resources for subsistence and livelihoods. The root causes for marginalisation and impoverishment must indeed be seen in the all pervading degradation and the exploitative mechanisms implicit in the long standing power structures in society. This adversity impedes the conservation of biodiversity and wildlife as it does the well-being of the people living in and around forests and non-forest natural areas. The adverse environmental impacts are manifest in denudation, decline in aquifer recharge and augmented severity of droughts and floods.
Scaling up management to 'landscape' level if properly implemented is expected to facilitate overall development in two ways. Firstly, it will enable the Forest Department to rationalise management on a larger canvas so as to secure biodiversity and also ensure sustainable availability of bio-resources to the needy, particularly the subsistence dependent. This would afford options for provisioning livelihoods that if dependent on forests are sustainable, as well as others capable of reducing unsustainable dependence. Having taken care of the needy in this manner, strict regulation and if needed enforcement can be used against those who pursue profits at the cost of biodiversity and ecological security. A larger landscape canvas will enable the much needed convergence within the forestry- wildlife sector in terms of rational use of forests and other natural land, leading to better conservation and production. This can be achieved by rationalised management zoning based on biodiversity significance and livelihood facilitation. Secondly it will afford an opportunity to the forest-wildlife sector to stand as a development agency in the company of other line agencies by dint of better provisioning of not just bio-resources but also livelihoods. Supported by meaningful awareness measures it will enable a better understanding of the natural area functions and the mandate of the forest-wildlife sector in preserving these functions for indirect benefits to the society from local to global level. If also supported at the level of Central and State Governments including the National Planning Commission and the State Planning Boards, the landscape approach can bring about better convergence of the development inputs of various government and non-government agencies towards repairing the incongruities in land use and rural development initiatives. This can begin by redirection of current inputs of the different government agencies at the district level and yield quick time results by augmenting the overall development inputs for fostering conservation compatible livelihood avenues.
It is emphasised that if the various sector inputs converge in such a manner as to reduce the threats to natural ecosystems, their restored ecological services including water security will significantly enhance benefits to the society at large and to the poor and underprivileged in particular. A key requirement here would be appropriate configuration of the landscape that takes an integrated view of conservation and livelihoods realised through rational management zoning. The process should indeed lead to a net gain for biodiversity and ecological services also in two ways. One, it will help PA management by reducing pressures and also lead to amelioration of forests and pastures restoring the degraded 'dispersal' habitats in the areas outside PAs. Two with livelihood facilitation for the needy it will foster and forge their stake in the PA and non-PA segments of the landscape in the interest of long term security of conservation and livelihood values
Little Rann of Kutch (LRK) Landscape: It is one of the sites chosen for BRCLIP, the other being Askote in Uttaranchal. Little Rann of Kutch, is situated close to the Gulf of Kutch in the Saurashtra region of the state of Gujarat, the Little Rann of Kutch (LRK) is a unique landscape comprising saline mudflat and marshes, which in monsoon gets transformed into a very large seasonal wetland proving to be a haven for the migrant avifaunal and invertebrate diversity. The Rann is the only stronghold for the endangered wild equid subspecies Equus Hemionus Khurin Asia. During the monsoon the seasonal wetland charged by freshwater inflow and ingress of seawater teems with plant and animal life. It becomes a major marine nursery for the famous endemic “Kutch Prawn” and a feeding ground for numerous fish and invertebrate species. This large saline mudflat has been the traditional breeding ground for the lesser flamingo since 1893. It lies in the migratory route of a large number of bird species and draws a host of waterfowl and demoiselle and common cranes.
The total landscape area is 6979 sq km of which the LRK Wild Ass Sanctuary encompassing the whole Rann, the inward slopes of the fringe, all 'bets' and the length of the feeder creek.
The landscape of Rann carries five major habitats. These are, a) Rann fringe, the elevated rim that carries thorn-scrub forest and human habitations; b) Bets or islands that do not get inundated and also carry thorn-scrub; c) Riverine tracts along the ingress of the inflowing rivers and d) Water bodies and barren mudflats.
The landscape covers 108 villages in Kutch, Rajkot, Surendranagar, Patan and Banaskantha districts. The total population is about 2.71 lakh of which 5.7% are Scheduled Tribes; 8.7% Scheduled Castes and the rest belong to others.
The Workshop on Landscape Approach to Conservation Building Alliances and Sectoral Linkages
With the objective of conducting exhaustive deliberation over the latest scientific methods of conservation, the Gujarat Forest Department along with the World Bank organised a two day workshop which was attended by top environmentalists and government officials. The theme of the workshop “Landscape Approach to Conservation Building Alliances and Sectoral Linkages” was a comprehensive theme to allow participants engage and deliberate exhaustively.
The workshop was held at the Indian Institute of Management (IIM), Ahmedabad on September 9 and on the next day at Surendranagar district.
Day one was the occasion where many technical questions were wrestled with and light shed on many queries. Known as the technical event, many of India's esteemed environmentalists and wildlife scientists engaged intensely on fruitful discussions and came up with solutions and concepts that could be implemented. Day two was utilised to connect the academicians with various stake holders.
The article is originally published in The Gujarat (Magazine), Vol-III, Issue-4.