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Supporting Sustainable Livelihoods: Case Study on our Tasar Operations conducted by United Nations - World Food Programme & International Fund for Agricultural Development.
Research, Training & Conservation  
Traversing through the panoramic grandeur of the mighty Himalayas, one is awe-struck by their rugged beauty. But looking beyond their apparent splendor, it is hard to ignore the receding glaciers, overgrazed grasslands, thinning forests and rivers and mounting forest fires. The ominous signs of global warming, the inescapable phenomenon of our times, are becoming starkly visible in this famed Dev Bhumi. It is for all these reasons that biodiversity conservation, aside from economic security, forms such a strong organizational imperative.

Traditionally mountain societies had evolved systems of natural resource management based on centuries old, tried and tested principles of ecological sustainability. Extraction of natural resources was curtailed by traditionally imposed religious symbolism and traditional codes of conduct rather than enforcement of state laws. However with the declining influence of religion on social behaviour and the replacement of kinship values and informal institutions, this is no longer viable. At the same time, State based institutions like the Forest Department which has replaced traditional systems have exposed severe limitations in yielding the desired results.

90% of the available forest land in the project area is designated as `reserved forests', under the custody of the Forest Department. Even though the local community enjoys usufruct rights (over all NTFPs), they had been reluctant to undertake any conservation related activity on these lands due to ownership issues. Mutual distrust have contributed to poor management mechanisms and over-extraction of forest resources in the absence of concern for regeneration.

A participatory assessment of threats to biodiversity, undertaken by AT India indicated that these threats are the result of lack of alternative livelihoods, public awareness and incentives for conservation apart from insufficient access to technology, information and skills among the stakeholder villagers. Consequently, scientific research and complementary conservation initiatives have been undertaken by AT India to address lack of accurate information and local apathy, which is a pre-requisite for arresting environmental degradation.

Monitoring
AT India's conservation and research programme has been conceived to complement AT India's livelihood activities as also to arrest forest habitat deterioration. While employing accurate scientific technologies to protect the environment, encouraging local community participation has been an integral aspect of this initiative. Over the years AT India's efforts have been directed at:

Capacity building of local communities to assess the status of their existing biological resources and monitor its rate of depletion and regeneration under AT India's Community based Biodiversity Conservation and Resource Planning Initiative (CBCRPI)
. Training local communities on sustainable harvesting techniques for extraction of biomass and NTFPs
. Conducting GIS mapping for the entire project area
. Strengthening common property resource local institutions such as the Van Panchayats and Dekh-rekh Samitis and facilitating better relations between Forest Department and latent local institutions

Community Based Monitoring
In 2006, AT India initiated a Community-based Biodiversity Conservation and Resource Planning Initiative (CBCRPI) to enhance community understanding and action to counter threats to the environment and facilitate greater collaboration between the Forest Department and local communities. The following issues are being addressed under this initiative:
. Assessing availability of biomass and eco-system services
. Managing community forests by devising fire protection and rotational grazing regulations
. Creating community based biodiversity monitoring and evaluation systems
. Developing methodologies and strategies to optimally utilize specific biomass and NTFPs
. Creating biodiversity registers and recording ethno-botany and folk taxonomy
. Strengthening village-based common property resource institutions to enable communities to devise effective mechanisms to manage their natural assets.

This initiative is expected to institutionalize processes and systems for community leaders, school teachers, students, and forest department. The platform will be used for wider dissemination of project findings on the status and health of their environment and reaching a better understanding on management and protection of local resource base. Moreover it will enable the training of communities on monitoring changes in their natural resource base.

Process implementation:
. Data collection has been completed through community groups and community leaders. So far data collection has been initiated in 26 valleys.
. Community based biodiversity registers have been developed for 26 villages which comprise of comprehensive qualitative information about the flora and fauna occurring within the village boundary. These are kept in their respective village level biodiversity information centers.
. Trained team of AT India then helped the community members to analyze the data and draw up present and future scenarios for a given community on the basis of present needs, levels of extraction and economic implications for loss of cover.
. Environment education programs have been initiated in five schools.
. Community action is mobilized wherein the community is facilitated into drawing up regeneration and management plans to meet its biomass needs. . Biodiversity Information Centers situated in villages have been created in 26 villages. In order to institutionalize these processes collaboration with Forest Department is critical. For this purpose an MOU with the Forest Training Academy, Haldwani has been signed. Under this agreement well-defined roles have been drawn out for the three stakeholders: research personnel, implementation agency and Forest Training Academy who are to train the trainers and support the integration of this initiative with mainline forest department work.

GIS Monitoring
As discussed earlier, one of the objectives of the research initiative is to create a system that will monitor the impact of programme activities, both economic and training related.

Under the monitoring component of AT India's research initiative has generated the following GIS resource maps for 9 catchments of Rudraprayag and Chamoli district:
1. Resource map for tasar
2. Resource map for dairy
3. Existing forest regeneration levels
4. Harvestable surplus available for tasar
5. Baseline land use/land cover map
6. Forest classification maps
7. Forest fragmentation map
8. Resource map for dairy
9. Forest fragmentation map

In addition, AT India has initiated collation of data for creation of a village wise, spatial and non-spatial data base, for approximately 450 villages of the project area.