Kachchh is an arid ecosystem with a wealth of biodiversity that has been declared Rare, Endangered and Threatened (RET). This region has historically been a meeting point for cultures, ecosystems, and geological formations, all of which have contributed to its rich biodiversity. This is the only arid ecosystem in the world that is accompanied by a marine mangrove ecosystem along its coast. The Gulf of Kachchh and its creeks and mangroves are the home to some of the rare marine biodiversity of the world, including Dolphin, Sea Cow/Dugong, Green Turtle, Olive Ridley Turtle, etc. Similarly the Ranns have a unique ecosystem of their own, with the only site for flamingo breeding and the wild ass in the country. The Bhuj Ridge features thorn forest. It straddles the district from the East to the West, and has the densest human populations in the district. It is home to the Caracal, Wolf, Chinkara, Spiny-tailed Lizard, Desert Cat, Ratel, Desert Fox, etc. The rich grasslands of Banni in the North, once the largest tropical grassland in Asia, and the Naliya Grasslands are homes to unique germ-plasm like Banni buffalo, Kankrej cattle and horses. These grasslands and many small other patches also host rich wildlife and are the breeding and roosting ground for many migratory birds. Further, grasslands of Abdasa taluka are important breeding sites for three globally threatened bustards viz. Great Indian Bustard, Houbara Bustard and Lesser Florican. Despite its unique biodiversity and ecosystems, Kachchh District has been facing several challenges due to increasing population growth and industrialization. Prominent among them are encroachment for expansion of agriculture; unplanned and rapid industrial development through habitat modification and habitat fragmentation; exploitation of waterscape; invasion of Prosopis juliflora; and resultant changes in land use and land capability threatening the flora and fauna. Furthermore, increasing extraction of ground water for ever increasing agricultural and industrial needs has in some places made the groundwater saline due to sea water ingress from the long coast line.
The Biological Diversity Act (BDA), 2002 is designed to legally empower people to play a role in conservation, sustainable use and ensuring equitable benefit sharing from the utilization of bio-resources. The provisions of this Act require Panchayats to form a Biodiversity Management Committee (BMC) made up of individuals who are concerned about biodiversity of their region. Sahjeevan, in collaboration with the Gujarat Biodiversity Board (GBB), has initiated mobilisation of Gram Panchayats to form BMCs and is helping them to map local biodiversity and prepare Peoples’ Biodiversity Registers (PBR). For this, detailed participatory surveys and documentation of floral and faunal diversity of the panchayats is being carried out. This has been initiated in 35 Panchayats in Abdasa, Lakhpat and Nakhtrana Talukas. After the completion of PBRs, Sahjeevan encouraged the BMCs to prepare their conservation Action Plans, several of which have also been submitted to the State Government. More than 25 proposals have been developed on species and habitat based conservation. These proposals of BMCs include programs to conserve animals such as - two Critically Endangered (White Rumped Vulture and Great Indian Bustard), one Near Threatened (Painted Stork) and three Vulnerable (Houbara bustard, Pied Tit and Stoliczka’s bushchat) species of Birds, one Vulnerable (Chinkara) and one Near Threatened (Leopard) species of Mammals and once Vulnerable reptile (Marsh Crocodile). These proposals also targets to conserve flora like – Commiphora stocksiana (Sweet Gugul), Olax nana, Ephedra foliata, Helichrysum cutchicum and Leptadenia reticulata. Fifteen out of 35 BMCs have made their plans to conserve grasslands both for fodder and also for wildlife conservation. Fifteen BMCs have their action plans to conserve and improve thorn forest habitat and all the BMCs have their wetland conservation action plans for wildlife conservation as well as providing water source for livestock.
The present project with selected BMCs, aimed to empower communities and their local institutions for sustainable use of biodiversity and conserve landscape for proper functioning of ecosystem services. This linked to Aichi Target 18 that desires, the traditional knowledge, innovations and practices of indigenous and local communities relevant for the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity, and their customary use of biological resources, are respected, subject to national legislation and relevant international obligations, and fully integrated and reflected in the implementation of the Convention with the full and effective participation of indigenous and local communities, at all relevant levels. This project also developing awareness among youth, women and children on significance of biodiversity which is in the line of Aichi Target that aspires to a citizenry that is ‘aware of the values of BD and the steps they can take to conserve and use it sustainably.’
This project is being established community based monitoring of RET species, flagship species which are in the accordance of Aichi Target 2 belongs to Strategic goal A that address the underlying causes of BD loss by mainstreaming BD across government and society in one hand and commensurate with GEF-UNDP cross cutting framework of capacity building which aimed to enhance capacities of stakeholders to monitor and evaluate environmental impacts and trends. By preparing BD action plan, part of which is addressing the problem of Prosopis juliflora, an alien species, the project will include Aichi Target 9 that desires, by 2020, invasive alien species and pathways are identified and prioritized, priority species are controlled or eradicated, and measures are in place to manage pathways to prevent their introduction and establishment and restoration of native habitats that support the Aichi Target 15 that desires Ecosystem restored and resilience enhanced. The project outcomes are also linked with UNDP’s objective of sustainable development that help build the capacity of communities to manage natural resources, under its country programme action plan for India 2013-17.
In addition, this on-going project with selected BMCs, envisages forming regulations by local BMCs and Panchayats for sustainable utilization, protection and conservation of biodiversity which is corresponding to several Aichi Targets (i.e. , 2, 4, 10, and 14).
The project area has been facing several challenges due to increasing population growth and unplanned industrialization. Most of these industries have been established in the expense of commons resulting in shrinking of pasture land, extraction of ground water and depletion of natural resources particularly by mining. In addition, expanse of high input agriculture, conversion of village commons into farming, development network, invasion of alien species like Prosopis juliflora have caused havoc on local natural resources, biodiversity and ecosystem functioning are general threats to natural resources; and land-use land cover (LuLc) changes at landscape level are threats to region specific threats to many RET biodiversity. In order to overcome the above-said challenges, the long term vision of on-going project is to mainstream conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity by the local community and their institutions (i.e. BMCs).
The action taken:
As also stated above, after completion of PBRs with BMCs, we prepared an action plan for biodiversity conservation through participatory natural resource mapping exercise with stakeholders like pastoralists, farmers, forest dwellers- non timber forest produces collectors, etc. Each mapping exercise completed with several action plans on habitat restoration and improvement, species conservation, re-introducing native crops, environment education and monitoring etc. In addition, strategically, we also concerns with livelihood issues and management of natural resources for local people and hence, we are also developed several action proposals for restoration of grazing resources and waterscape in and around the wilderness areas. This approach supports us to mobilize local people towards conservation and restoration of native habitats for wildlife and mainstreaming biodiversity governance agenda with BMCs.
Children and youth, who will be future torch bears for conservation of biodiversity, are one of the stakeholders in the project. Several environment education programme also being organized with schools and youth with help from concern forest department on significance biodiversity and shared site and species specific conservation strategies to them and plan out how students and youth will participate in this project. In addition, nature walk and rally also being organized by the school children in each selected school for raising awareness among village community on biodiversity and ecosystems. This approach also support us and march whole village to give message on conservation need of biodiversity, its significance in food production, maintaining ecosystem goods and services. Sahjeevan planed these activities with teachers, students, BMC and PRI members to make it more effective. Sahjeevan also proposes to develop cadre of youths as para ecologists who can then help one or cluster of BMCs in biodiversity conservation work, maintaining records on distribution of RET species, flagship species as well as vigil on treats and any act that affect local biodiversity and then report to BMCs.
This programme aimed to address biodiversity issues and its challenges. BMC and PRI members need to handle conflicting issues within their village, like, encroachment in gauchar (grazing areas/grassland), hunting of wildlife, cutting of native trees etc. These issues are quite sensitive and some time powerful people having vested interest tried to influence negatively. So, these issues are discussed regularly with informal way to various stakeholders including members of BMCs, pastoralists, farmers etc. and attempt to put pressure on targeted group of each BMC. Very few BMCs also taken some self initiatives to overcome these issues and being started their own monitoring mechanism in their landscape. But, for mainstreaming these issues with biodiversity governance agendas with each BMC will be challenged for sahjeevan in future and working on site specific strategies to handle very specific community’s driven action will be prioritized and our assumption is ‘community will be ready to resolve conflicting issues which may have political implications’.
Since the on-going projects already taken participatory approach, Sahjeevan will encourage communities to deliberate on conflicting issues in future and gram sabhas (village meetings) will be organized to discuss issues and resolve conflicts to minimize risks.
- Awareness on biodiversity and its significance among 3000 people (200 individual from each BMC and with 15 BMCs) and 1500 students (100 numbers from each BMC and with 15 BMCs) of the project area and several articles on BMC, PBR and initiatives of schools on environmental education also published in local news paper for wider dissemination of project activities. In addition, key member or youth who are interesting in biodiversity conservation also been identified. With support from naturalists and local resource personal, educational materials (10 brochures, 10 Posters, two booklets, 8 activities/games etc.) are developed on local ecosystem and key RET species and flagship species.
- Demarcation of more than 12 sites for participatory conservation of biodiversity and ecologically sensitive areas or landscape with restoration of more than 100 acre land for wildlife and domestic animals.
- Seasonal data on flora and fauna collected for two seasons and for post and pre implementation stage to know the positive or negative intervention effect on biodiversity and overall habitats. Interestingly, few implemented sites are recorded with more sighting of biodiversity with increasing biomass and recruitment of native vegetation species. Several threatened species like Chinkara and White-naped Tit are started to use this restored sites and recorded first time from landscape. In addition, due to increasing biomass (almost double than first year, and continue to collection of data this year) and native vegetation cover, several other birds and mammalian species are also being used this landscape very frequently.
- This project also documents communities’ knowledge system as part of preparation of PBRs with each BMC and integrated those with scientific knowledge. A system of knowledge management also established at Panchayat level where besides PBR, monitoring of RET species, flagship species; are recorded, updated by local youth who trained as para ecologist by Sahjeevan. Sahjeevan initiated to compile data and information on flora and fauna collected by the local youth and interns from academic institutions and transformed into knowledge system by documenting case studies, articles, papers, success stories based on learning from the field.
- Being a demonstration project, focus will be on creating good examples and best practices which will be then advocated with policy makers to scale up the concept with other BMCs in the state or in the country.