ATREE at Kanakapura

The Kanakapura region stretches over approximately 1590 sq km from suburban Bangalore at one end, to Bannerghatta National Park and the Kanakapura and Sathanur ranges bordering the northern bank of the Cauvery River at the other end. The land lies at an elevation of 800m to 900m, with temperatures between 20ºC to 27ºC and an annual rainfall of 805.2 mm. ATREE’s work is in and around the Bilikal Reserve Forest (BRF), which is the largest reserve forest among the 12 reserve forests in Kanakapura, with an area of 103 sq kms.

The Kanakapura forest is scrub and dry deciduous, with interspersed agricultural land. It serves as an important elephant corridor which is getting progressively squeezed due to land use patterns in the region. Major fauna in the range includes the common mongoose, leopard, wild pig, dhole, elephants, Indian hare, flying fox, black drongo, cattle egret, common myna, Indian roller, jungle owlet, small green barbet etc. The dominant tree species are Albizia lebbeck, Anogeissus latifolia, Chloroxylon swietenia, Dodonaea viscosa, Decalepis hamiltonii, Erythroxylon monogynum, Feronia elephantum, Holoptelea integrifolia, Phyllanthus emblica, Pongamia glabra, Premna tomentosa, Randia dumetorum, Shorea roxburghii, Tamarindus indica, Terminalia species, Wrightia tinctoria. Species that constitute the major market-driven nontimber forest products (NTFP) in the area are tamarind, Feronia elephantum, Emblica officinalis and Decalepis hamiltonii. In descending order of demand are the bark of Cassia fistula, Terminalia bellerica seeds, Bambusa arundinacea, Phoenix sylvestris and honey. Some of the NTFP’s like bidiru kalale (bamboo shoot), sige soppu are used for self consumption.

Kanakapura suffers some of the problems associated with being the backyard to a booming city—villages are slowly being depopulated, farming is down as people speculate on land values, there is much land alienation and resource depletion. Landholdings are skewed, marginal rainfed farmers face problems of land tenure, access to forest for grazing, fuelwood collection and NTFP tenders. Forest dependency is directly related to a community’s socio-economic conditions and takes the form of livestock grazing, fuelwood, fodder and collection of NTFPs.

Kanakapura is made up of 258 villages spread over six hoblies and is considered a backward taluk. The populace is heterogenous, consisting of different castes and communities. Vokkaliga are the predominant community in the taluk followed by Linghayath: they are mostly agriculturalists and traders. Adikarnataka, Lambani, Irula and Soliga are the other backward communities in the area.

The community is mostly agrarian, with per capita land holding ranging from one to five acres. Dependency on rain fed antiquated farming practices, and increased elephant raids on crops result in low agricultural productivity and marginal livelihoods. The communities are dependent on forest land for grazing, and for collection of fuelwood, fodder, and NTFPs. Some find work in the government and private sectors.

Though NTFPs are an important constituent of the local forest dwellers’ household income basket, distant forces benefit more from the extraction of NTFP than local forest dwellers. Clearly, there is a need to secure local rights over resources so that benefit sharing is balanced. There is also a need for communities to forge strategic partnerships between the constitutionally mandated bodies like Panchayats and local non-governmental organisations (NGOs)/community-based organisations (CBOs) for rights-based work.

There are a very few institutions in the area that work towards forest conservation and community livelihood. The local institutions in the area are Self Help Groups (SHGs), Village Forest Committees (VFCs) and Panchayats. SHGs and VFCs have not been very effective in addressing issues relating to resource use and governance since SHGs are membership-based and given over to the more tactical/ immediate issues of the group. VFCs, initiated by the Forest Department, has poor community representation and is largely dependent on availability of funds. This has resulted in lack of stakeholder ownership towards issues of governance and management of resources.

Given this background, from ATREE’s perspective, Panchayats are the only institutions with which effective action can be taken: they are constitutionally mandated institutions and capable of addressing the broader plethora of issues. There is also the possibility of nesting bodies like VFCs and within the Panchayats. Most of ATREE’s projects are implemented through Panchayats.

ATREE’s entry into Kanakapura was through children. ATREE started work in Kanakapura in July 2002 with a hands-on conservation education program among the schools of forest fringe villages. The aim of this programme was restore the vast denuded landscape, with the available school grounds, and later work with communities on improving the productive capacity of farms in the region by increasing biodiversity through multipurpose tree planting on bunds and fallow lands, which in turn would help increase marginal community resilience to the vagaries of climate and market.

Kanakapura developed as a community-conservation centre in 2008 as a by product of ATREE’s conservation and livelihood programme and its need to identify significant community-based institutions in the area to work towards possibilities of using forest resources in a sustainable manner, while simultaneously conserving biological diversity.

With the Schedule Tribe and Other Forest Dwellers Act (STOTFDA) there is now space for local communities to participate in conservation by way of legal access and livelihood rights to forests, and thereby stronger motivation to invest in sustainable forest resource use and conservation. This is an unprecedented opportunity for ATREE to assist local bodies to manage biodiversity areas while securing their rights through Panchayats.

Diversity rich agroforestry approach for restoring forest fringes

The BRF forest fringe is an ecotone between forests and agricultural lands, and consists of very few trees and associated biodiversity. Both agricultural and forestlands in this ecotone are getting degraded at an alarming rate. ATREE has combined the latest technologies in enhancing soil fertility, using soil micro organisms, with nursery technologies, to strengthen appropriate agroforestry systems.

ATREE disseminated information on diversity-rich agroforestry systems to farmers and developed new propagation and nursery technology for lesser known indigenous multi-purpose trees and plants. We identified potentially new strains of beneficial micro organisms useful as biofertilizers in agroforestry systems. This research-driven intervention which developed as a farmer-friendly biofertilizer production technology replicated among farmers at low cost benefited the poor marginal farmers and also assisted the women in earning supplemental income. Restoring the land with biodiversity-rich agroforestry systems rejuvenated the land and its resources and helped in moving agricultural systems towards sustainability.

ATREE trained farmers in inoculating forest tree species with bio-fertilizers to grow healthy and vigorously growing seedlings. The project aimed to ensure economic viability of the farming community by providing multipurpose tree species which could be planted on bunds and in uncultivable land. The other expected spin-off of this exercise was to reduce soil erosion, increase soil fertility, and to provide a cleaner environment.

Conservation and Livelihood Programme

ATREE’s Conservation and Livelihoods Programme (CLP) used a multi-disciplinary framework to explore the possibility of using forest resources sustainably, while simultaneously conserving biological diversity.

The focus was on

  • developing effective decision support tools for sustainable management of forests for non-timber forest products, fuelwood, and fodder
  • promoting sustainable organic agroforestry practices, which restore soil, water, on-farm diversity, incorporate NTFPs, and increase productivity while reducing dependence on forests
  • building capacities,
  • advocating necessary policy changes
  • strengthening local institutions to sustainably manage biodiversity
  • integrating conservation education in building awareness among the communities.

The approaches adopted to meet these objectives included Participatory Rural Appraisal (PRA), socio-economic surveys, ecological studies, policy and institutional analysis. We find that lack of ownership by Forest Department and local communities are the two major reasons for forest degradation, decreased livelihood options from forests, and resulting community migration.

Forest resources management and governance

The community’s dependency on forests is based on its socio-economic conditions. It draws on services like livestock grazing, fuelwood and fodder, and collection of NTFPs like Tamarindus indica (tamarind), Phyllanthus sp. (amla) and Decalepis hamiltoni. ATREE’s study of four adjacent forest villages with different caste compositions reveals that the communities use NTFPs for sale as well as for self- consumption. However, the tender for collecting NTFPs, given by the Forest Department, is based on a bidding system, for which the local population finds itself unable to compete. Since these tenders then go to external agencies, it benefits these distant agencies more than it does the local population. The lack of ownership – of both external parties as well as of the deprived local population – on forest resources is one of the reasons for lack of interest in sustainable forest resource use and management.

Possible remedial action has been provided by the recently enacted The Schedule Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers Act (STOFDA) 2006/ Recognition of Forest Rights Act (RFRA) 2006 – of rights-based action through constitutionally mandated bodies like Panchayaths, through Gram Sabha’s and local non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and community-based organisations (CBOs). Since ATREE believes that natural resource governance cannot be achieved without a decentralised system involving constitutionally mandated bodies and that community rights over resources play a major role in achieving better forest governance, the RFRA is a major opportunity.

ATREE has helped build awareness among four Panchayaths and 40 villages adjoining BRF on the subject of tenural issues and the process of claiming legal rights through RFRA, by providing relevant evidence.

ATREE and the BRF-adjacent community have developed a management plan for BRF, which would help the community establish village forest boundaries for better co-management and lay a plan for the better conservation, protection and collaborative management of community forest resources. Once community rights are accorded to people, the forest management committee (formed by the forest rights committee) at each Gram Sabha can implement the strategies in this management plan.

Participatory and two-way learning

The idea behind a community-based conservation centre is to learn from community experience and to keep solutions relevant to the community. Gram Sabha members have helped build awareness on collaborative management and how this management plan can become important evidence in claiming the community rights over BRF through RFRA 2006.

The community-ATREE team has had discussions on a range of subjects - on community stakes in forest resource usage, tenurial issues, Forest Department conduct on protection and management of reserve forest, present institutions and their interests in policy and governance issues and reasons for failure of government-run projects like Joint Forest Management (JFM) and community interest in constitutionally mandated bodies like Panchayaths. This interaction with community heads has resulted in information on individual and community claims, and demarcation of village traditional forest boundaries, resource rich areas and sacred sites. The community has indicated that granting of community rights will encourage a positive response to collaborative forest governance. This management plan, being developed by ATREE in collaboration with community, will be strong evidence in claiming community rights. ATREE is also developing a spatial map of these village boundaries, which would be better visual evidence.

Training programmes for women

Green enterprise as an income generating option was introduced. Women were trained (in two separate programmes at BAIF Institute for Rural Development – Karnataka (BIRD-K)) in grafting techniques, building poor man’s greenhouse, seed collection techniques, vermicomposting and on increasing small-farm productivity through multi-cropping systems and soil and water conservation activities. Similar women groups at BIRD-K shared their success stories in green enterprises, which provided further motivation adapting this as a livelihood option.

CCD Madurai and Green Foundation partnered ATREE on the training on lantana basket making and vermicomposting. ATREE and Green Foundation got together to impart training on model kitchen gardening.

Training for farmers

ATREE conducted a training programme on ‘Advantages of using biofertilisers in farming’ where the uses, importance and method of using biofertiliser in farming were explained and field demonstrations made.

A field level training programme on establishing diversity-rich agroforestry (one acre model) was given in four villages. As an alternative technology to address dry land development. Women participation in the training was made mandatory.

ATREE also arranged an exposure visit to BIRD-K, where a diversified one acre model was already implemented. This provided farmers an opportunity to interact with progressive farmers about the use and importance of sustainable agriculture in marginal dry lands.

Training for school children and educators

Fifteen teachers from Kanakapura were taken on a two-day exposure trip to observe the dry-land watershed development programme at BIRD-K. This programme integrates water and soil conservation and restoration of native species. This visit convinced teachers on converting barren school grounds into ‘biodiversity gardens’ for imparting hands-on education.

In Bangalore, ATREE conducted an awareness-training programme on environment for 57 children from five slum schools (including dropouts). This was organized by Association of People with Disability (APD) Bangalore and Development Alternatives as part of their Community Lead Environment Action Network (CLEAN) India – an environmental assessment, awareness, action and advocacy programme. Students planted and fenced seedlings using lantana. Then made a trek in the nearby forest and played games that helped increase their understanding of nature.

Corporate training programmes

ATREE, in collaboration with Earthwatch Institute, has begun a one-day local volunteering project for HSBC employees under HSBC’s Climate Partnership Programme. The focus of this project is to create awareness among the corporate sector about biodiversity, the need to conserve native species of plants and animals in their natural environment, and the threats posed by climate change on biodiversity, and in turn on human well-being. These programs have been conducted in Bilikal Reserve Forest (Kanakapura taluk) and in Forest Trails (Anekal taluk) - a privately owned estate adjoining the Bannerghatta National Park

The Local Volunteering Project (LVP) was started in March, 2009. So far, six groups of HSBC employees (from the banking and BPO sectors), each comprising of around 20 volunteers have participated in the project. The employees have been instructed in monitoring and documenting plant and bird diversity. The programme also aims to increase volunteer awareness on distribution of biodiversity, the implications of biodiversity loss, the need for conserving biodiversity, and the services that the natural environment provides to human beings. Participants receive first hand field experience in understanding biodiversity. They actively undertake field studies to document and monitor three groups of organisms: trees, birds, and butterflies. The volunteers share their contribution in mitigating climate change.