The ‘solution’ addressed the issue of unsustainable extraction of park’s bio-resources by the local communities resulting in adverse park-people relations. Rather than preventing users to rely on bio-resources for their incomes, the ‘solution’ created alternative livelihood strategies and options that centered on the sustainable use practices and in doing so created a meaningful stake of local communities in managing the Park. The GEF and World Bank funded “India Ecodevelopment Project” established innovative institutional arrangements at the Periyar Tiger Reserve in the southern tropical State of Kerala that worked directly with local communities in helping them set up ecotourism activities, joint patrolling and visitor services. Innovative revolving fund was established that freed local community from debts of moneylenders. It also provided for an assessment of Park’s management on established criteria. Both the innovative institutional set up and assessment of management performance was adopted and scaled up at the national level by the Central Government through a combination of policy and legal action.
The ‘solution’ addresses the core issue of people-park relations and allows credible assessment of management performance. With heavy dependence of local communities on park resources for their incomes, they often came in conflict with the Park Management, when their entry was controlled and/or when caught with illegally collected forest products (bark, leaves, fruits, honey, fishes etc.). There was no trust between the Park Management and local communities. Local communities were without options or ideas to raise their incomes and improve livelihoods and continued to remain in debt trap with local moneylenders. This situation was untenable as the biodiversity was impacted by overuse and management was unable to fully regulate undesired activities.
A combination of management approach, institutional innovation and performance measurement tool was used.
- Management Approach: The management invited local communities to partner them in undertaking joint patrolling of park boundaries, organize visitor services and local logistics, design and implement day and overnight treks through the park and involved erstwhile poachers in keeping vigil. It helped create community ownership of park resources and provided alternative income generating options.
- Institutional Innovation: Two levels of institutions were established. At the Park level, an independent society was created that people could approach comfortably and a flexible management approach could be adopted. At the community level, Eco Development Committees (EDC) were created that would set up and manage revolving fund to provide loans on easy terms to members to get out of debt trap. Both these innovations allayed community fears, developed mutual trust and boosted managerial confidence.
The ‘solution’ generated a number of important lessons. The most striking ones are presented here:
- Conservation partnerships and community involvement are prerequisites in meeting the challenges and demands of PAs;
- Evidence gathered through scientific designed performance assessment tool allows room for risk taking; and
- Expanding the reach of conservation initiatives beyond the PA boundary is essential for realizing long term conservation goals.
The major outcome was that a new self-sustaining conservation models was tested and adopted that helped in allaying apprehensions of forest users, provided flexibility to PA management and involve communities in owning and managing park resources. Some specific impacts and outcomes are:
- The co-management of the Park resulted in improved habitat conditions, stable and/or increasing wildlife populations, enhanced visitor experience and park’s ownership by the people;
- National laws and policies were amended to incorporate the new approaches of establishing Societies at the Park Management level;
- Conservation leadership was developed and demonstrated; and (iv) Community ownership of PA resources is amplified.