A GIANT DIGITAL STEP FOR INDIA'S BIODIVERSITY CONSERVATION
One of India's greatest treasures - its world-renowned biodiversity - is under profound threat from human activity. Population growth, development, mining, dam building, and breakdown of government-community relations have all helped to devastate this vital national resource. In order to gain broader support in the battle to conserve and restore biodiversity, the India Biodiversity Portal (IBP) was launched on December 15, 2008. The IBP is part of an effort that uses information technology to empower larger sections of society - scientists, activists, students, government departments, and representatives of traditional resource users.
In September 2007, the National Knowledge Commission (NKC) of India selected ATREE to coordinate the India Biodiversity Portal on behalf of a consortium of five organizations. The goal of the award was to promote biodiversity conservation and manage it use, through decentralization, transparency, and the right to information and participatory action. The Eco-Informatics Center (EIC) in ATREE has been working, since the award, on the development and deployment of the portal. The IBP seeks to host information on multiple aspects of biodiversity in India. To achieve this it will draw upon traditional knowledge and scientific databases, seek voluntary input by users, and establish a participatory platform for generating, verifying, and using content.
The EIC team has been rigorously involved for the past eight months in collecting, collating and curating data to be uploaded on the portal and to make it comprehensive so that it showcased some basic diverse datasets. The website is different in its working as a wiki-model, it has been built using Open Source software tools, houses all its inputs under the Creative Commons licensing system and is unique in its spatial approach to displaying biodiversity data. The last three months (October-December '08) saw the rigorous testing and updation of the website and work on improving the interface for different types of users, along with addition of multifarious types of data. With inputs from experts in various related fields, the portal acquired its current form and content. It is, however, a work in progress, and will see more additions and improvements periodically. A number of new organizations (in addition to the original five which formed the consortium) such as such as Foundation for Ecological Security (FES), Nature Conservation Foundation (NCF), National Center for Biological Sciences (NCBS), Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) and French Institute, Pondicherry showed willingness to partner and supply data or infrastructural support.
The Launch Event
The Portal was launched at the Management Council Hall in Infosys, Bangalore. Dr. Kamal Bawa, President of ATREE, used the launch of the portal to emphasize the importance of biodiversity and its rapid loss from all parts of India. Dr. R. Prabhakar, Senior Fellow, ATREE and Director, Strand Life Sciences Pvt. Ltd, led the gathering through a tour of the portal and its highlights. Mr. Sam Pitroda, Chairman, National Knowledge Commission, noted that such virtual initiatives can be useful in bringing diverse types of people together at the virtual level and also in conferences. He pointed out that the IBP was unique in its spatial approach and multi-disciplinary nature, and believes it is important that such portals become economically sustainable. Dr. Ravi Chellam, Adjunct Senior Fellow, ATREE and Country Director, Wildlife Conservation Society - India Programme outlined communication strategies. These will include campaigns to popularise the portal through means such as road shows, which will help in the challenge of funding such a portal.
Mr. S.D. Shibulal, Co-Founder and Chief Operating Officer, Infosys Technologies Ltd, congratulated the National Knowledge Commission, ATREE and the others involved in creating this portal. He said he found the site intuitive and informative and indicated that there was a challenge to make this portal reach out to many more through the use of Indian languages.
Ms. Rohini Nilekani, President, Arghyam Foundation, suggested that the portal is not just about technology but about deepening democracy through participation. A new generation of netizens, she said, will be the future creator of social contracts that rely on such tools as the Biodiversity Portal.
Dr. M.D. Madhusudan wrapped up the proceedings with the vote of thanks. Mr. Bhaskar Bhat, CEO, Titan Industries Ltd and Distinguished Alumnus IIT Madras anchored the event.
Future and Appeal
Next steps for the portal will include a road show to various government and non-government organizations, individual scientists, academicians, and the public at large to solicit their participation in uploading biodiversity data and observations to the website. The IBP team encourages feedback on the website (www.indiabiodiversity.org) for improvements and additions to the portal. The portal is designed as a wiki initiative that will thrive on support and participation from anybody in the wider community who wants to learn more and contribute to community science.
Manisha Anantharaman, Senior Research Associate, Centre for Conservation Governance and Policy, based in the Bangalore office. She has an MSc in Integrated Biosciences.
Dr. Mohan Seetharam, Visiting Fellow, Centre for Conservation Governance and Policy, based in the Bangalore office. He has a Ph.D in Geography and over a decade of experience in agriculture, environment, and international developmental sectors.
Nageshwar Singh, Accountant in the Accounts Department in the Bangalore office. He has a Bachelor's Degree in Commerce.
Neelambari Phalkey, Senior Research Associate, Centre for Conservation Governance and Policy, based in the Bangalore office. She has a Master's degree in Environmental Science, Policy and Management.
Rajinder Singh, Office Administrator and Technical Assistant, ATREE Delhi office.
Dr. Ravikanth has been appointed as an Edda G. Sehgal Fellow in Conservation Genetics. He has worked as post-doctoral fellow with ATREE from Jan 2004 till October 30, 2008.
Ravishankar Prasad, Assistant Manager in the Accounts Department, Bangalore office, has a Bachelor's Degree in Commerce.
Seena Narayanan, Research Associate in the Insect Taxonomy and Conservation Lab at the Bangalore office, has an M. Phil in Parasitology
Samuel Jacob, at the Singampatti field station, is responsible for the implementation of the IUCN work on wetlands around KMTR. He has a basic degree in Arts and a diploma in mechanical engineering.
Aravind N.A gave talks on 'Conserving the lesser known: Land Snails of the Western Ghats', on 'Urban landscapes: Biodiversity Deserts??!!' and 'Approaches in Conservation of Biodiversity: From Genes to Ecosystems' at a UGC sponsored refresher course on "Wildlife Conservation and Management" held at Kuvempu University on November 13th and 14th 2008.
TALKS AT ATREE
Prof. Arild Vatn, Norwegian University of Life Sciences, gave a talk on 'Institutions and the environment - the basic issues' on December 11th 2008.
Dr. Jenny Gronwall from the Stokcholm Resilience Centre gave a talk on 'Access to water in Bangalore - a question of rights and obligations?' on December 30th 2008.
Dr. Kumaraswamy gave a talk on 'N cycling in soils of young eucalyptus plantations' on December 31st 2008.
N. Sapna Bai, T.O. Sasidharan, O. K. Remadevi, Priyadarsanan Dharmarajan and M. Balachander. Efficacy of Metarhizium isolates against the polyphagous defoliator pest, Spilarctia obliqua Walker (Lepidoptera: Arctiidae) on forestry species. (communicated to Journal of Tropical Forest Science, FRIM, Malaysia)
Rajkamal Goswami, 'ATREE's anti-plastic campaign', Deccan Herald, November 4th, 2008.
T.O. Sasidharan, O.K. Remadevi, A. Anitha Rani, Priyadarsanan Dharmarajan and Jayeetha Bhattacharya. New record of a microsporidian parasite from the teak defoliator, Hyblaea puera Cramer (Lepidoptera: Hyblaeidae). Hexapoda 15, 97-101.
Wildlife Week celebrations were observed on 9th and 10th November, 2008, in Lava, Darjeeling. The programme was organised by the Forest Department in collaboration with ATREE's Eastern Himalayas Office. Dr. Santosh Kumar Chettri was the resource person. Local communities, staff and children of various schools, local EDC members and Forest officials participated in the programme.
ATREE's Eastern Himalayas Office organised a two-day interactive workshop on 'Conservation and Livelihoods' at the Fortune Resort in Darjeeling on the 25th and 26th of November, 2008. The workshop brought together researchers, scientists and bio-conservationists from ATREE Bangalore, the Northeast and the Darjeeling Himalayas to share regional experiences and learning. The workshop was attended by other NGO's in the region including DLR Prerna, Save the Hills and FOSEP.
Sunita Rao organised a workshop, 'Learning for Life - Conservation Education in our Work and World' on Dec 18-19, 2008 at Navadarshanam, Gumalapuram, Tamil Nadu. The program was a skill share workshop for practicing environmental educators, programme coordinators, and applied researchers. It had 23 participants from ATREE and other organisations in various parts of India to share their work on conservation education. A CD on conservation education resources was compiled and given out. A significant outcome of the workshop was the formation of a conservation education network that will stay in touch on email and meet annually to hone skills and collaborate on conservation education.
Anand Gazmer attended a workshop on "Landslide Hazards" organized by Save the Hill in collaboration with Darjeeling NGO Network on 21st November, 2008
Aravind N. A "Diversity of freshwater mollusk of the Western Ghats" at Lake 2008- Conservation and Management of lake and river ecosystems, held at Indian institute of Science, Bangalore from 22nd to 24th December, 2008.
Aravind N. A chaired a session on "Biodiversity" at Lake 2008- Conservation and Management of lake and river ecosystems, held at Indian institute of Science, Bangalore from 22nd to 24th December, 2008.
Bejoy K. Thomas attended a workshop on Coastal Ecologically Sensitive Areas (ESAs) organised by Centre for Environment and Development, Thiruvananthapuram, at Central Institute of Brackishwater Aquaculture, Chennai on October 14th, 2008. He contributed to the consulting process to evolve a definition for coastal ESAs.
Bejoy K. Thomas attended a workshop on ICTs for Participatory Local Development, co-organised by IT for Change, Bangalore and UNDP at The Capitol, Bangalore on December 9th, 2008.
Gopal Rai, a master craftsman from the project village of Rampuria was the resource person for a five-day training and exposure programme on bamboo handicrafts organized for lead farmers from IFAD from the 24th to 28th of November, 2008. The training was organised in Rampuria for a team of 4 artisans from Meghalaya and Assam and was led by Mr Ajit Sharma, Marketing Coordinator, NERCORMP, Shillong.
Kiran M.C attended an international workshop "Nomination and management of serial and transnational natural World Heritage sites: present situation, challenges, opportunities and guidance for future practice", between November 26 - 30, 2008, at Isle of Vilm, Germany, organized by the German Federal Agency for Nature Conservation in collaboration with the UNESCO's World Heritage Centre and IUCN. He made a presentation on "Potential Serial World Heritage Site: Western Ghats"
Kiran M.C attended an interaction meeting on 'Spatial Quantification of Ecosystem Functions in Western Ghats: Mapping the Macro-scale patterns from Micro-scale Datasets', on November 14th and 15th, 2008, at Bangalore, organized by the School of Ecology and Conservation, GKVK in Bangalore. He presented a concept note on "Geo-spatial technologies for mapping eco-system functions"
Madhura Niphadkar attended a lecture delivered on 'Eco-Informatics: Tools for Ecology' for IFS officers as part of the Refresher Course on 'Recent Advances in Forestry Research' on December 4th, 2008, at the Institute for Forest Genetics and Tree Breeding, ICFRE, Coimbatore.
Ramanatha Rao chaired a Brainstorming Session on Inputs to Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) Secretariat on Issues of Access and Benefit Sharing (ABS); 4th Oct, 2008, New Delhi; NBPGR.
Ramesh Kannan, Gladwin Joseph and Uma Shaanker made a presentation on 'Managing Lantana camara and Restoring Native Biological Diversity in the Western Ghats, India' in the Asia and the Pacific Forest Health Workshop - Forest Health in a Changing World held at Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, on December 1-3, 2008.
Ramesh Kannan made a presentation on 'Utilizing Lantana camara in the protected areas of the Western Ghats' to the Department of Wildlife Conservation and Forest Department, Sri Lanka on December 4, 2008. He also visited the Udawalawa Elephant National Park and the field site of the Eco-Friendly Volunteers a local NGO in Sri Lanka.
Suman Rai attended the Climate Change Leaders workshop which was organised by LEAD India from 19 - 21 November, 2008. The workshop took place in Kaziranga, Assam where nearly 30 participants from all over the Eastern Himalayas interacted on issues regarding climate change. Suman made a presentation on the programme being undertaken by ATREE in the Eastern Himalayas.
Sunita Rao attended a workshop on 'Farmers, Livelihood and Trade', organised by National Institute of Advanced Studies and Green Foundation, held at Bangalore on October 7-8, 2008. She presented a paper on 'Women and Access to Markets - A Case Study from the Malnad Region of Western Ghats'
Sunita Rao participated in the Annual Organic Farmers Association of India meeting, organised by OFAI in Trichy on October 18th and 19th, 2008. She made a presentation on 'Seed saving techniques of home gardeners in the Malnad'.
Vivek Ramachandran participated in the DST-SERC Thematic Workshop on Avian Biology at the Gurukula Kangri University, Haridwar, Uttarakhand from 26-30 November, 2008.
Eminent environmentalist Shri Sunderlal Bahuguna visited the ATREE office on December 4th, 2008, to interact with ATREE staff. Shri Bahuguna has been striving to preserve the forests in the Himalayas from deforestation and opposing environmentally destructive projects such as the Tehri Dam.
Ramesh Kannan received travel support to attend the Asia and the Pacific Forest Health Workshop - Forest Health in a Changing World workshop at Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, on December 1-3, 2008.
Dr. K.N. Ganeshaiah was presented with a literary award from the Kannada Sahitya Parishat for his critically acclaimed science-fiction novel "Kanaka Musuku" on December 4th, 2008.
Suman Rai and Niraj Kakati presented a project update to the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) and UNESCO, outlining achievements and challenges in implementing the World Biodiversity Heritage Project, 15 December, 2008, New Delhi.
Ramanatha Rao carried out a consultancy for the International Biosaline Agriculture (ICBA), Dubai, United Arab Emirates and developed the Strategic and Business Plan to establish the 'Abu Dhabi Genebank and Botanical Garden'. The proposal has been submitted to the Abu Dhabi Executive Council for approval by the Secretary General of the Environmental Agency of Abu Dhabi.