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May 28, 2012

Forests - In need of protection today



Karnataka is home to the diverse forests including the famed Western Ghats that cuts a swathe through more than nine districts while nurturing some of the most fascinating landscapes man has ever known. These forests harbour a bewildering wealth of flora and fauna: mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, and fresh water fishes; much of which is endemic to the region. As early as 1988, people like Myers mentioned that the high level of diversity and endemism in Western Ghats has given it the status of one of the biodiversity hotspots of the world. Forests in Karnataka are spread across landscapes ranging from Evergreen, Semi Evergreen, Moist, Dry and Shola forests resulting in a paradise for botanists, researchers, tourists and forest lovers in general. These forests are the source of several rivers, streams, swamps and marshes cumulatively bringing water to the parched land and ensuring a lifeline to millions across the state.

Often, forests mean many things to many people. It is a source for food for some, supply of medicinal plants for others and a valuable economic source of timber for many. All these are traditional demands that have been met by the forest since life began on earth. There would be infact few forests that do not provide benefits to either man or animal, in one way or the other. This role of the forest as a mutual agent of assistance is acknowledged by millions countrywide. For them, the forest is the omnipresent philanthropist, always ready to give.

However, even the most generous donor has a threshold and the wild is in a terminal decline today, leading to an ever increasing clamour to protect these fragile resources. Citizens, especially those who receive the benefits of forestry resources sitting in distant locations have grudgingly acknowledged that these resources need to be conserved, providing a significant urban based push for the environment movement over the past few years. There are a plethora of voices when it comes to focussing on reversing degradation of natural resources. Some advocates of conservation promote exclusion of forest dependent people from their homes in the so-called larger interest of the society, a concept that is opposed by groups who actively demand that indigenous people be allowed to stay in their ancestral lands and allowed to have rights over these lands.

This leads us to question whether forests are to be conserved for the benefit of urban conglomerations in commercial markets or is it to be conserved for people who live in adjacent areas and subsist on them, or is to be conserved to protect the invaluable wild flora and fauna that enrich the planets’ biodiversity.

These issues are related to the ownership, use and management of the forests. How will the resources be utilized and by whom, for whom? The State, representing many interests, including that of the demand of the distant consumer has larger concerns in mind to meet the larger objectives. Dams, logging, mining and large projects are undertaken to meet these goals and permanently alter these areas and their ecology. On the other hand, the forests are home to indigenous communities who have traditionally been dependent upon natural resources, utilizing and surviving on forest resources for a long period of time. These are some of the pulls and tugs that forest areas are now subject to.

This is a wide variety of choices people have made for themselves, forgetting that the forests inherently comprise three elements – flora or trees and shrubs, fauna or animals and man. These three are intrinsic to the very identity of the forests. But in the divide between many interest groups, it is easy to focus on the importance of any of these three components individually. Through an isolated window, focus on either one of the three is likely to lead to an imminent collapse of the forest ecosystem. Forests will then cease to exist as they do now and remain but a mere plantation or a forest village or a zoo or a research station, for the three complement each other and the alienation of one will inevitably alter the character of the forests as we know them. Just as it is necessary to provide a safe refuge to the diverse fauna, it is difficult to ignore the communities who have traditionally lived by the forests and accessed it for their livelihood. Can they be made partners in forest management and continue to protect its resources, undertaking the least damaging activity of NTFP collection, rather than large scale mutilation of forest regions. It is indeed difficult to imagine The Bilgiri Rangana Sancturay without the Solegas or parts of Uttar Kannada without the Siddhis. Of course, a need to provide inviolate spaces need to be provided in some national parks and people may be asked to relocate but these incidences are few and far between. Indigenous people should therefore be allowed to stay within their traditional domains and not shifted due to the misjudged perception of some, especially based on general sweep that categorises all of them as being inordinately exploitative in nature. The indigenous people, if made a modern day guardian, will result in being the pre-eminent defender of the forest, augmenting the efforts of the solitary forest guard, significantly.

May 23, 2012

Communities, Livelihoods and Tourism


Tourism has come to be recognized as one of the most important civil industry employing the largest number of people both directly and indirectly, nearly 200 million jobs. Tourism contributes 10% of the Global GDP and 11.4% of all consumer spending.

Tourism has proved to be an engine of growth in many economies in the world. It provides for the generation of income, wealth and employment, and helps in the sustainable development of remote areas. In India, tourism provides direct employment to nine million people and indirect employment to another 13 million people, thus providing a livelihood to 22 million persons. It contributes an estimated 2.4% of the gross national product. Its contribution to the economies of states like Rajasthan, Goa, Madhya Pradesh, Kerala etc are significant and the maximum benefits has been felt to have dissipated to local communities.

Communities worldwide have benefited tremendously from tourism ventures. Tourism enables a community to earn their livelihoods without having to forego their traditional territory and at the same time, ensures a sustainable source of income from the natural and cultural heritage of their lands.

With increase in disposable incomes, more individuals get the opportunity to travel and spend a limited amount of their earnings in leisure, thus enabling communities to garner a larger chunk of this business transaction.

However, tourism is a double edged sword with an equal number of admirers and critics. Tourism if not organised properly can have several negative effects. Improper tourism can cause damage to the ecology of a local region. Tourism without ethics can have negative social repercussions including an increase in alcoholism amongst local populations. It becomes necessary that tourism in whichever form, reduces pressures upon local communities while add at the same time, increase their livelihood options.

Communities often dissent when they are left out in the rush towards tourism gratification while they are neglected. This increases a feeling of disinterest and in extreme cases, a sense of anger towards heritage areas, leading to an unhealthy tussle between them.

The biggest challenge for practitioners of tourism as is in the case of Jungle Lodges and Resorts is to build bridges with communities while resorting to enhancement of their lifestyles and in cooperation with the best future interests of these communities. As the bridge is crossed, tourism can be expected to provide wider benefits to societies in the long term.

A case in point is Coorg district. Kodagu is one of the most fragile ecosystems in the country. A critical part of the Western Ghats ecosystem, the district includes large segments of deciduous forests and places of cultural importance. Whether it be the world famous source of the Cauvery river at Telecauvery or the flourishing monastery at Bylakupe, or the elephants at Dubare, the district has much to offer. Infact, there has been an explosive growth of tourist inflows into the district over the past few years, lured by the beautiful grasslands and hills that abound in the district. The administration has taken active role in promoting the attractions of the region by involving more local populations as compared to other similar tourist regions. When the tourism boom began, there had been an acute shortfall of beds in the region. However with active encouragement, local coffee planters began opening their homes and welcomed tourists leading to a growth of homestays. Presently, Coorg is famous as the home stay capital of the country with an astounding number of people visiting the place. Local have actively benefited from this novel idea leading to Coorg emerging as the top five tourist destinations of the state of Karnataka. The main strength of Indian Tourism at present is its cultural attraction, particularly monuments and archaeological diversity. Heritage is a non renewable resource and all efforts should be taken to ensure that active protection of these resources is undertaken at all times. Communities if provided a stake into the conservation of these resources will be the bets managers at the local level. This will broaden the scope of economic and social enhancements from tourism activities.

A larger benefit from tourism would be the added income from new infrastructure development and the utilisation of communities in these works. Besides, on job training will build up the professional capacity of communities, offering them a greater chance to receive higher pay from tourism activities.

In the case of JLR, we follow a strict policy of involving local people. Most resorts have more than 90 percent of the staff from within the nearest villages. The effects are there to be seen over the last 30 years. Increase in incomes has led to a greater disposable income and subsequent benefits. The second generation of these villagers are now educated and free to choose their vocation, including farming, working at JLR, working at the numerous new resorts that have sprouted in the past few years or staking out entirely new professions. The practice, though initially thought of as ill conceived, has led to greater protection of resources and in the case of JLR, of invaluable forest resources trough reduction of poaching and prevention of damage to the natural heritage. The Cauvery example stands out.

Cauvery Fishing Camp- A case study

A fishing holiday destination offered by Jungle Lodges & Resorts Ltd. can be sighted to explain how the three aspects are integrated to give Sustainable Tourism a real meaning. Jungle Lodges and Resorts Ltd. has taken many initiatives towards development of community based ecotourism. In fact all of its resorts are excellent examples of practicing ecotourism. However, some of these need special mention.

Cauvery Fishing Camp is one such resort. Together, these three camps are the richest habitat of the world’s finest game fish, the Mahseer.

The local community employed in this resort also comprise of poachers who now enjoy guiding tourists to their favourite fishing spots. A tourist learns from the tour experience that the valuable and beautiful resources he/she is enjoying are not inexhaustible, but are in fact under severe pressure from human use. The tourist observes that the tour package she is paying for is in itself the realization of a fishing community's effort to promote conservation by engaging in a non-extractive form of enterprise while promoting environmental understanding to visitors. He/she learns that community members help monitor the river, and boat and dive operators pay user fees and observe user guidelines. He/she then realizes that these local efforts are paying off in terms of better regulation of human activities, generation of tourism revenues, and improved regeneration of marine life. The experience imbues him/her with a feeling of connection with Nature, a grounded awareness of the realities that threaten it, and a new resolve to care for the environment and its people.


Involvement of local communities has several facets to it. Whether it be employing local populations or encouraging sale of local produce such as handicrafts and forest produce as honey or ensuring their active role in management, benefits can be accrued in various manners and as a group, I suggest that we come up with suitable ideas in the long run.

May 22, 2012

Beautiful Article by Amorgvarsha


http://amoghavarsha.com/stories/kabini/

May 19, 2012

The Nilgiris Affair - Killoor Slopes


Another large mammal census and another opportunity to learn from nature by being in it. I was off to the Nilgiris for the census and turned out to be initially disappointed as I was given the Killor fragmented forests adjoining the Chamraj Tea Estate in the Bengal Mattam area. This area is far from the ethereal forests of Mukurthi National Park and I was for one, apprehensive about the Killoor Region.

But first surprises first - the ranger turned out to be a jolly fellow, the guard Panneer Kumar an equally respectable person and the watcher Mani - an absolutely potent house of information on forest, even the forest quarters possibly the best I have ever seen in the past several years. Though I wanted to feel bad, yet knew from the bottom of the heart that this will be an unique experience, tough yet an eye opener.

Tough - Walked 21 km of rugged Nilgiri Shola terrain on the first day, a little lesser on the next day. Tiring yes, but a complete eye opener about the way fragmented forests operate. Also, saw the good work being done by tea companies like Chamraj.

The forests were broken into various Reserve areas such as Maryland and so on and each patch of forest was anything between 500 metes to 1 km from each other interspersed by tea or habitations. What happens to the animals then. Do they remain stuck in their respective islands. From what I understood, the reverse is true. They happily roam about, moving from one shola patch to the next. Two rather large families of gaurs have infact made a part of the Chmamraj estate as their own, living literrally of the tea bushes. I saw leopard scats on the main road which means that they are roaming in the vicinity of the villages. There were plenty more leopard scats in the boundary regions of the tea and forest. There were tiger rake marks, perhaps him marking his territory but the poor tree had a deep gash from the tiger, must have felt bad, for the tree.
The walks were tough and we covered a deep patch of sholas and lots of tea country roads. There was also this profusement of wattle that has taken over large parts of the Nilgiri South Division. The plentiful animal signs are indicative of the dependence these beings have on the small patches of forests, both as a cover and a resting place but also as safe hunting grounds. There was infact a lot of prey signs around and we managed to see a lot of sambar signs and had direct sightings as well. Another unique thing was the phenomenal signs of porcupine scat, literally every 100 metres in whichever direction we went to. Maybe this is a sign that porcupines prefer boundary zones.
After two days of intensive walking, I went back to Ooty. The Killoor census is unique for I had crossed this area since 2004 and had always wondered what lies inside these dense but fragmented forests. Thanks to this census, got to see a complex interrelationship between forests and man and the fact that the forests seem to be thriving in place where man is not forcing himself into the denser zones of the forest. These small fragmented forests may or may not be connected to the ultimate climax zone of Mukurthi but yes they are definitely linked with other large patches of Nilgiri South Division. What was also unique was that the people, though mostly migrants to the Nilgiris in the past decades are quite comfortable with the idea of having predators around. If we talk to them about a tiger in the forest patch nearby, they get interested and scared at the same time. If we ask whether they have seen predators, almost the entire population says yes. If we ask about any problems, they say no..... Wonder if the traditional villager only gets pissed off when their own cattle is killed or whether they indeed respect the predators enough to let them live in peace in the small shola patches.

May 17, 2012

People and Forests – An inherent togetherness

Forests across the country and the state have a significant percentage of adivasi
population, dependent on natural resources for their livelihood. These diverse
communities have had a symbiotic relationship in the past but are now fragmented
and few in number yet strung together culturally. The more than fifty indigenous
groups who reside in the forests of Karnataka have lived in these regions for countless
years.

Often, forests mean many things to many people. It is a source for food for some,
supply of medicinal plants for others and a valuable economic source of timber for
many. All these are traditional demands that have been met by the forest since life
began on earth. There would be infact few forests that do not provide benefits to
either man or animal, in one way or the other. This role of the forest as a mutual agent
of assistance is acknowledged by millions countrywide. For them, the forest is the
omnipresent philanthropist, always ready to give.

Adivasis began using forest resources many centuries ago, as a result of which, their
indigenous and ethno-botanical knowledge of their surroundings is immense and
diversified. Numerous instances have been documented wherein the adivasis shows
precise knowledge with respect to the properties of a particular plant.
Traditionally they used to harvest species based on a time tested schedule
resulting in minimal harm to the harvested species. Besides adivasi paintings and oral
tradition continually make a mention of their relations with the forest. Traditional
vaidyas are still the mainstay for indigenous people and their services taken great use
of. This reciprocal relationship underscores the importance and need to preserve Non
timber Forest Produce (NTFP) resources. They collect NTFPs for trade, honey being
one of the major items. Other items collected for trade are mainly resin, gooseberry,
myrobalans, soapnut, eecham grass, wild pepper and nutmeg, etc. The collection is a
major source of seasonal livelihood for the people.

Traditional and cultural uses of the forests are also high for most adivasi
communities. Their deities live in the forests, with the ensuing protection often
resulting in large tracts being nurtured as ‘sacred groves’. The rules for the use of
such forests is strictly governed by the community and punishments meted out to
those who violate the unwritten law.

However, Indigenous People find themselves in a piquant position today. From the
hitherto generations old custodians of the forest to being frequently branded as the
single biggest reason for resource degradation – most members of the various forest
dwelling tribes wonder where are they going to end up in the coming few decades.

Ecosystem people that they are, inspite of living in resource rich areas, they suffer
from what can be termed material poverty. Surrounded by relatively prosperous
communities of outsiders, indigenous people feel a deep sense of apathy at their
present condition and often tend to blindly follow the ways of the dominant and richer
communities. This has had and impact on their culture, food and overall lifestyle.
The vicious cycle including factors as loss of tenural rights over forests, loss of food
security and a high degree of dependency upon wage labour has led to a breakdown
in their community governance systems and to an increase in indebtedness to money lenders.

Hemmed in by all sides, adivasis continue to languish at the lowest strata of society.
Their present skills leaves them ill-equipped to work in the normal structure of the
mainstream society and poor education levels often means that all they end up with
in the name of work is wage labour. It is a catch 22 situation gone haywire for most
members of these communities. The tenuous links with ancient forests is weakening
rapidly, they are ill at ease with the modern world. Just as it is necessary to provide
a safe refuge to diverse fauna, it is also difficult to ignore the communities who have
traditionally lived by the forests and accessed it for their livelihood. Can they be made
partners in forest management and continue to protect its resources, undertaking the
least damaging activity of NTFP collection, rather than large scale mutilation of forest
regions. These are a few questions that beg serious discourse as involving them in
forest protection is seemingly the best way ahead, as opposed to their ever increasing
dependence upon wage labour – a highly exploitative occupation. The indigenous
people, if made a modern day guardian, will result in being the pre-eminent defender
of the forest, augmenting the efforts of the solitary forest guard, significantly.

May 1, 2012

Aarushi

I do not know what happened. But if injustice has been done - by that policeman who openly insinuated the family soon after and by the supremely twisted investigation, I feel for a mother arrested today for a murder, she may not have committed. Yet if she did not, her curse will fall on all of you - who messed up everything - the murderer may be forgiven but the rest of you will have to face the mother's wrath, including the ones who yield the mighty pen. What worse can be a crime than one where, manahor kahaniya, is the inspiration for all actions, imagined and fictional