Conservation of protected areas more than often invite conflicts particularly when resources for protected areas are also sources for livelihood. It becomes difficult for park officials to communicate conservation with local communities. With experiences of working on Biodiversity Registers in different parts of this country, the author of this best practice , presently a faculty at TERI University, India was assigned a task of communicating different provisions of the Biological Diversity Act, 2002 of Government of India to local communities at a vicinity of a Tiger Reserve, a protected area in India. The present case study is an inference of a four days interaction with frontline park officials and local communities at Valmikinagar Tiger Reserve, West Champaran, Bihar, a state in east India. More than 150 women from different villages of Champaran were trained to document the available natural resources in their forests and their present status in wild. This work was also an attempt to learn from local people about their knowledge systems on biological diversity, uses and the values. The activity was supported by Wildlife Trust of India.
This Biodiversity Act, 2002 of Government of India provides for the establishment of Biodiversity Management Committees (BMC) in all local bodies, whether Panchayats or Municipalities throughout the country. The main function of the BMC is to prepare People's Biodiversity Register in consultation with local people and forest officials. The Register shall contain comprehensive information on availability and knowledge of local biological resources, their medicinal or any other use or any other traditional knowledge associated with them with their present status in wild.” Preparation of “People's Biodiversity Registers (PBR)” is an unusual scientific activity. It is indeed an indispensable activity towards the sustenance of healthy nature and conservation of natural resources.
The concerned authorities and state should take major steps to specify the form of People’s Biodiversity Register and the register should follow a particular format in which the local information on the biological resources should be documented. The People’s Biodiversity Register should be maintained and validated by BMC. Creating Biodiversity Registers is part of most of the State Biodiversity Action Plans.
Introducing and communicating the nuances of the Biodiversity Act (2002) and the Biodiversity Rules (2004) , as anticipated, was not easy , people and park relationship was not found cordial. Local communities do fail to comprehend their alienation from the very forests over which they feel they had traditional rights. A wide gap between the park authorities and people is detrimental to any conservation effort. We however used the opportunity of the deep and intimate relationship of both, the local communities and frontline staff, have towards their natural resources. A small training programme by TERI University, Wildlife Trust of India and supported by National Biodiversity on the Act, used Biodiversity registers as a common platform to bring local communities and park officials to a discussion platform to overcome this challenge.
The action taken:
Sharing and discussing Traditional knowledge on the bio diversity brought the village women, village youth and frontline park officials to a common working platform. A strong a total of eight villages (Naurangia, Gardi, Piparahawa Tola, Khairahni, Matiarawa Tola, Simrahani Tola, Kamarchinwa and Majuraha) in the Doan valley were documented, based on their proximity to the core areas and their dependence on the forests. Short walks to forests, collection of plant specimens and discussing the diversity and uses elicited a string interest. The activity then created the right ambience for discussion on different aspects of the Biodiversity Act, 2002
A detailed and candid interaction with the village communities during the training programme led to the following learning experiences.
- Biological Diversity Act (2002) is a very technical document and should be applied in a simplified manner as the target audience during this workshop were mostly illiterate. Of the many elements of biodiversity, we chose to communicate through higher plants and herbarium techniques, for which both the village women, men and children and the park field staff had a passion for. Collecting plants of their choice through a transect walk, preparation of the herbarium and narration of the plant name, the rationale for their attachment to the plant, their uses and their present status elicited interest amongst both, people and park field personnel. They participated with equal enthusiasm. Women came forward in turns to speak before the camera.
- We feel that in addition to plants, we can further trainings on documentation of faunal elements of biodiversity, lower faunal forms like invertebrates in particular. The local communities are very well aware of the ecosystem services these provide, and training programmes of this nature will be a new approach towards their involvement in nature conservation activities being undertaken by WTI.
- This training programme could be an initiation towards, setting up of Biodiversity Management Committees in the villages. These BMC’s have to be approved by the respective Gram Panchayats and the State Biodiversity Board. Peoples Biodiversity Registers could also be an imitation towards a long term community level biodiversity monitoring of the region.
- Educated youth created the right ambience in the training programme. We realized that willing and literate local villagers should be trained in preparation of their registers. Villagers may have limited access to resources of the Tiger Reserve but will value the resources documented by them in the biodiversity registers prepared and owned by them.
A key outcome of the best practice was, confirmation of the fact that biodiversity registers are not only a medium for documenting diversity but also a platform that encourages joint participation of people and park officials in appreciating the significance of biodiversity and the ecosystem services it provides.