Enabling Locally-Managed Conservation of Forest and Wildlife Habitat While Improving Livelihoods in India’s Western Ghats
India is one of the world’s most biologically diverse countries. Twenty-two per cent of its land area is forested and it has a strong legal framework to support environmental conservation through its large system of protected areas and wildlife corridors. However, competing land uses including human settlements, industries and agriculture have led to significant degradation and biodiversity loss. Similarly, while it has significantly reduced the number of people in extreme poverty (living on less than $1.90 a day), poverty is still widespread and smallholder farmers in rural areas struggle to earn a living income.1
The Western Ghats region is one of India’s biodiversity hotspots. Over the past several years, ATREE has been working with the Soliga Scheduled Tribe community in the Biligiri Ranganathaswamy Temple Tiger Reserve (BRT) of the Chamarajanagar District of Karnataka to develop a new model for improved livelihoods that conserves the forest and its natural resources, which the community has traditionally used. The community lived in the forest long before it was declared a protected area under the Wildlife Protection Act of 1972. Under the 2006 Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, people have rights cultivate and to use the resources of the forest in a sustainable manner to secure livelihoods.
With ATREE’s help, two thousand Soliga families recently secured individual rights to forest land making them one of the first communities to secure rights under the Act. The major challenge now is to ensure that the community uses these rights to earn income in a way that also conserves the forest. There is risk that the community may resort to conventional chemical fertilizers, pesticides and mono-culture agriculture, if we do not provide training and technical assistance now.
Karnataka is India’s leading producer of coffee. ATREE is supporting 360 families in the BRT to grow Coffea arabica (coffee) without use of agrochemicals and in an integrated system with the natural environment. Diversifying the livelihoods of the community will reduce pressure to extract resources from the forest. The community decided to create a brand called Adavi (which means forest in their language) for the coffee and the forest products that it sells. The coffee is sent for processing and packing to a company in Bengaluru and sold in local retail outlets. The Coffee Board of India is providing some technical support to the coffee growers.