Community Driven Biodiversity Conservation in Dudhwa National Park

Neeraj Pal, CEE North

Spread over 616 sq Km, with a core area of 490 sq Km, the Dudhwa National Park (DNP) forms a unique ecosystem in the Himalayan foothills of the Terai Arc Landscape. Known for its tall Sal trees, swamps and grasslands, DNP is home to swamp deer, Hog deer (Axis porcimus), Spotted deer (Axis axis), Barking deer (Muntiacus muntjac) and Sambar (Cervus unicolor) found together only in Dudhwa and no where else in India. Dudhwa is also home of two critically endangered species Hispid hare and Bengal florican. The great Indian one horned Rhinoceros was successfully reintroduced in this area in 1984.

The area is also inhabited by the Tharu tribal community, traditionally dependent on forest resources for their livelihoods. Till 1976 they lived in thirty seven forests villages, two of which were in the core area and the remaining in the buffer area. Today Surma village with ninety nine families still lies in the core area, while all the others lie in the buffer zone of the park.

The agricultural fields of the villagers adjoin the buffer area of the park. When there is a shortage of fodder inside the protected area, especially in monsoon and winter season, wild herbivores migrate to the cultivated fields and cause heavy crop damage. Occasionally, carnivores follow the herbivores igniting further man and animal conflict. The Forest Department has installed electric fences on the forest boundary adjoining the cropping fields with the support of NEDA (Non Conventional Energy Development Agency). The Forest Department also compensates the community for crop raiding or cattle lifting.

CEE with funding from Keidernan Nature Conservation Fund (KNCF) stepped in 2005 with a project Community Driven Natural Resource Management for Biodiversity Conservation in Dudhwa National Park. The project aimed to develop capabilities for sustainable livelihoods amongst the village community that would in turn ensure conservation of biodiversity in the region.

Understanding Issues and Participatory Action Planning
The first phase of the implementation started with collection of detailed information of the park, the status of the natural resource base, conservation issues and threats, initiatives being implemented by the Forest Department, etc. Awareness and discussion workshops were organized at department and community level to build initial rapport and understanding about Natural Resource Management, its related practices and the role of the communities in it. The exercise helped prepare a community based plan and agenda for action. In order to initiate a dialogue with students, a Dudhwa Utsav (festival) was organised during Wildlife Week.

A cluster of four villages closer to the protected area were selected where mobilization of the local community has been carried out. Village biodiversity conservation committees were set up to facilitate active participation of the communities. The ultimate goal of the biodiversity committee formation was to institutionalize the collaboration between the forest department and local communities.

A baseline survey was done to assess the extent of dependency of people on forests. It also helped in a needs assessment of the villagers living close to the national park. Based on the baseline data analysis and need assessment a framework for action component for further work was drawn up.

Conservation with Participation
In year 2007, the second phase of the project was initiated with the objective of conserving the biodiversity of Dudhwa by managing the natural resources through communities’ participation and networking with key institutions.

Community level activities included improvement of community’s livelihood skills through capacity building, training and providing alternatives for fuel wood and market facilities for the tribal handicraft. The main emphasis was on to reduce the pressure from the PA. Meetings were organized in each selected village with community members to disseminate and discuss the findings of the earlier survey and discussions. An annual fuel wood consumption assessment was also done and its results shared.

Based on discussions with the communities, capacity building programmes were devised. The first training programme was done on sustainable energy options with the objective to minimize the fuel wood pressure from the DNP. This was done in partnership with Non-Conventional Energy Development Agency (NEDA). With the State Education Department another training programme was initiated for teachers in schools around Dudhwa.

Two artisan groups were identified from Dhyanpur and Barbata village of Sonaripur Range of DNP. These groups are engaged in preparation of traditional handicraft items like baskets, hand fans, file folders and mobile covers. The artisans, mostly women, prepare handicraft items from local grass varieties Kansa (Saccharum spontaneum, Linn) and Bamboo (Dendrocalamus strictus). The handicraft items with little modifications in designs had a good market demand. They are a potential sustainable livelihood option for the community.

CEE decided to provide some market linkages for these articles. A networking exercise was done to bring in partners for product design, development and marketing. The Tribal Co-operative Marketing Development Federation of India Ltd (TRIFED) supports tribal artisans groups in the form of registered self help groups or committees by providing marketing support. A plan for skill based training, development of products; promotion of the handicraft in market was discussed. The network developed to support project implementation included Sarvangeen Vikas Samti, World Wildlife Fund for Nature, Non-conventional Energy Development Agency, TRIFED, Forest Department, Primary and Secondary Education Departments, SVS, WWF, Khadi and Village Industries Commission, etc.

Developing Sustained Conservation Practices
The present activities are focused on developing an eco village to demonstrate sustainable energy and livelihood options, in collaboration with WWF. Balera and Maura villages have been selected based on willingness of the community members and the overall support provided by the villagers during the earlier work. It is planned to demonstrate a toilet linked biogas unit in both the Balera and Maura with community participation. The improved chullah (stove) is also being demonstrated in both the villages with a view to reduce the pressure of fuel wood collection. Organic farming practices are being discussed with selected villages.

For more information contact:
Neeraj K. Pal
Centre for Environment Education,
Northern Regional Office
19/323, Indira Nagar
Lucknow- 226 016
Ph: 0522 2716628; Fax: 0522 2716570

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