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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.
Ringal (Dwarf Bamboo) and Lichen  
Outreach: Districts: 1 (Rudraprayag, Chamoli); Villages: 41; Beneficiaries: 60; Net annual returns: Rs 1, 50,000; Average income: Rs 2500/annum.

Ringal (Arundinaria falcatta) or dwarf bamboo have been traditionally harvested from the oak forests on a subsistence basis. It is then fabricated by local craftsmen, into a number of useful household products including, mats (chettai), a variety of baskets for carrying biomass, storing household goods, apart from religious purposes. It is a male-dominated activity mainly undertaken by Doms, the schedule caste members of the community.

The ringals based activity was initiated by AT India in 2004 by organizing ringal craftsmen as Ringal Bunkar Sangathans (ringal worker groups). A total of 38 Ringal Bunkar Samithis were organized with a total of 358 members. The success of AT India's ringal initiative can be gauged from the fact that in less than 2 years of its initiation (in 2004), commercialization of the activity was underway. However, given the organization's commitment to conservation, this activity has not been handed over to DNPPCL for commercialization as the sale of the ringal products was seen a fit business for catering the local demands.

Research studies conducted under the program suggest that sustainable extraction of ringal on a large scale may not be feasible. Therefore while AT India continues to believe that conversion of existing subsistence skills into a commercial economic activity is desirable, the pace of this conversion is being controlled. First it is necessary to develop captive bamboo plantations to sustain the activity. For this purpose AT India through its Ringal Bunkar Sangathans had taken the plantation of thousands of saplings of ringal (Arundenaria falcatta) and allied species on CPR forests and private lands.

Programme Highlights
. AT India had provided product design development inputs for further innovations on other hand-crafted products that can be made with ringals (e.g. file covers using ringal and silk, blinds, etc). A total of 130 designs were made with the help of bamboo design experts from Bamboo and Fiber Development Board of Uttarakhand. A temporary design and product development centre was established at village Tilwara of Rudraprayag to assist the ringal weaver in the process of design development.
. Village wise and groups wise 738 trainings had been organized by recruiting a master trainers of bamboo design experts from North-east India and Uttarakhand.
. The ringal enterprise organized by AT India has approximately 133 weavers working on a part time basis.
. Between (April-Sept 2007) there were 52 ringal weavers and 6 collectors responsible for supporting production and connecting output to the market.
. Initially the bulk of the material produced under this enterprise (approximately 2000 pieces of finished products) is sold locally along the yatra (pilgrimage) routes, at state run handicraft shops and exhibitions which had generated an annual revenues of approximately Rs.70,032 for the producers and Rs.10,884 for the collectors at that time.

Lichens
The Himalayan region harbours roughly 983 species of lichens (235 genera), which comprise nearly 50% of the species occurring in the Indian sub-continent. Oak forests are known for their rich lichen flora and this is one of the reasons for their exploitation. A recent study (2000) on lichens of Himalaya, reported that the Chopta-Tungnath hills of Ukhimath (AT India's project area) alone have 92 species of lichens, which is still in pristine form. The presence of three major oaks and remains of trees of old-growth forest make these forests a particularly suitable habitat for epiphytic macro-lichens.

2006, AT India undertook a study to assess the status of lichens in the project area and the environmental and community prospects for commercial use of the resource. For this purpose it collected data on the availability of lichens in the project area and a market study to understand the movement, pricing and end use of lichens. Some of the findings from the study are mentioned below:

Contribution to overall biodiversity: Lichens are important to ecosystem functioning as food, shelter, and nesting material for a variety of birds, deer, goats, sheep, moles, mice, bats and flying squirrel. Invertebrates like bristletails, grasshoppers, butterflies, moths, mites, spiders and slugs live on, mimic or eat lichens (Mc Cune and Geiser 1997)

Usage: Lichens are being harvested and collected from the Himalayan forests as they are used as spices, appetizers, aromatic and medicinal plants, and for the acids and dyes derived from them.

Lichen collection: The lichen collection is highly unscientific, irregular and uncontrolled. Generally, they get easily over-harvested. Resulting from the symbiosis of algae and fungi, lichens are stress-tolerant organisms, but they find it difficult to revive once unduly damaged. The poor villagers who collect lichens get only wages for their labour; most of profit goes to contractors, and traders.

Both ringal and lichens are common property resources that have gone relatively unnoticed by the forest department. This has lead to an over exploitation of lichens through unsustainable harvesting controlled by traders whose sole motivation is profit-making. AT India was planning to intervene in the lichen trade by putting it back in the control of the local villagers training them in value addition types of processing, identifying markets, and in sustainable harvesting methods. The economic activity based on lichen remains at the research level yet. The data compilation and documentation related to the use, extraction, policy and cultivation of lichen in Uttarakhand had been completed. The study revealed that commercial use of lichens may not be prudent given that its current extraction levels in community forests is far from benign. Thus plans for initiating any lichens related livelihoods have been abandoned or put on hold for now.