ATREE at Male Mahadeshwara Hills

The Male Mahadeshwara Reserve Forest is located in southeast Karnataka, where it borders Tamil Nadu. It forms a connecting corridor between the BRT Wildlife Sanctuary to its west, and the Cauvery Wildlife Sanctuary to the northeast. MM Hills was notified as a reserve forest in 1913, with an area of 703 sq km, but with the formation of Cauvery Wildlife Sanctuary in 1992, an area of 310 sq km was transferred from MM hills, reducing the reserve forest jurisdiction. MM Hills serves as an important elephant corridor between the Western and Eastern Ghats.

There are 3 forest types here:

  • Dry deciduous - 64%. This is the prominent forest type. Dominant tree species are Anogeissuslatifolia, Bosweliaserrata, Chloroxylonswietinia and, at some places, Dendrocalamusstrictus.
  • Scrub forests - 20.5%.
  • Moist deciduous and riparian forests - 2.45%. Kokkubare area. Common species are honne (Pterocarpusmarsupium), teak (Tectonagrandis) and Terminalia species. There is a sparse distribution of Dalbergialatifolia and Tectonagrandis, and patches of Shola.

NTFP as an income source includes tamarind, amla, antwala, magaliberu, seegekai, arale, avaram bark, broom grass and honey.

Lantana invasion in the forest is high, covering nearly 80% of the land. The mass felling of native vegetation - especially bamboo, in the years between 1933 and 1980 left the ground open for the rapid spread of lantana. This has had an impact on the native flora and fauna, as well as on agro-forestry.

Soligas and Lingayats are the dominant communities in the MM Hills. Soligas are the indigenous community who shifted here from the adjacent BR Hills and Sathyamangalam. They are a hunter-gatherer tribe who practiced shifting cultivation till they were settled in hamlets, on lands allotted by the government. The Lingayats are temple priests who came here originally from Mysore. Lingayat families take turns to work in the temple once a year. Temple festivities draw about one million pilgrims every year, creating a wake of income for the Lingayat and Soliga families. Non-timber forest products (NTFP) are an important source of income for both communities.

Apart from religious tourism, till as late as 1996, the area was mined for its good quality black granite. Mining was even more extensive before this, till the Forest Conservation Act came into force in 1980. Fresh leases were stopped, but quarrying continued till as late as 1995-'96 on existing leases. There has been pressure to restart quarrying work in the region.

The main bodies representing communities are the Panchayati Raj Institutions (PRIs), in which Lingayats have a dominant representation. Government social welfare programmes and development schemes are implemented by or through the PRIs. Presence of civic institutions is thin.

ATREE started its research activities in MM Hills in 1999 to study the role of forest fruits in sustaining livelihoods of forest-margin communities, and the contribution of non-timber forest products (NTFPs) to the income basket of forest-dependent communities. This study was followed by further research programmes, among which were mapping the distribution of the alien invasive species, Lantana camara, and its impact on local biodiversity - birds, butterflies, mammals and plants in MM Hills; and later the Conservation and Livelihoods Programme (CLP).

In response to the needs perceived during the CLP, the MM Hills Community Conservation Centre was begun in 2008. Today, the Forest Rights Act provides ATREE opportunity for taking rights-based conservation and sustainable resource management forward with local communities through Panchayati Raj Institutions, and with active support from satellite partner institutions at the site.

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Role of wild edible plants in nutrition and culture

ATREE has been chronicling the use of wild edible plant species in the MM Hills region since 2009. ATREE researchers tried to contextualize what this resource —of wild edible plants— means for poor rural households of the Soliga and Lingayat communities. How the knowledge concerning WEP availability, seasonality, phenology, use and recipes is now part of traditional knowledge. And how agriculture intensification and economic development are undermining the importance of wild edible plants in food culture and nutritional security of these communities. Research shows that while WEPs do not bridge the existing gaps in nutrition, without them, this gap would be much wider... read more

Click here for poster on indigenous knowledge on wild leafy vegetables

Livelihood gains and ecological costs of NTFP dependence

ATREE examined the dependence of forest fringe communities on NTFPs, for subsistence and livelihoods, within contrasting human and ecological settings, in an effort to understand the ecological costs of harvesting NTFPs. The socio-economic study was conducted over MM Hills, BRT WLS and Rajiv Gandhi National Park in Nagarhole.

It was found that there were three likely constraints to achieving a win-win situation for conservation and harvest: Extent of dependence on NTFPs, indigenous ecological knowledge and market organization and pricing. Results showed that with increasing dependence on NTFPs, the percentage of the collectors that adopted ecologically friendly harvesting methods and prudent harvesting methods increased. Level of sustainable harvesting also depended on long-term or short-term approaches, as dictated by collective rights of the community, presence of contracted, outside collectors, as well as returns per unit of collection set by private contractors.

Study of lantana invasion at MM Hills

Lantana camara, a native of tropical and sub tropical America, is now considered as one of the ten worst weeds in the the world. Lantana is now found all over India, from the submontane regions of the outer Himalayas to the southernmost part of India.

Our research undertaking on the lanatana invasion was to map the distribution pattern of the invasive species so as to identify the spatial correlates facilitating their invasion and spread; study the consequences of lantana invasion on the biological diversity and ecosystem health and function; study the consequences of invasion on the productivity of the ecosystem and assess the socio-economic impacts of lantana invasion on local communities.

Conservation by substitution

One of the fallouts of the preliminary studies in 1999 was that in 2002, with the aim of addressing the issue of conservation of natural resources and enhancing livelihoods of communities dependent on these resources, ATREE developed a unique programme at MM Hills, which it called 'conservation by substitution'. After testing out methods by which to make the Lantana camara stempliable for practical use, ATREE encouraged the Soligas to use this locally available and abundant invasive weed as a substitute for the scarce bamboo. The objective was to provide some protection to the wild bamboo crop, rid the ecosystem of some population of lantana, and augment the income of the local population.

This skill building project has proven its value by the number of craftswomen and men trained, livelihoods enhanced and stabilized, and most importantly by the ease by which it may be usefully replicated in any part of the world.

Efforts are now on towards actively restoring native plant diversity, in association with local forest departments in lantana-collected areas in MM Hills Reserve Forest.

Participatory and two-way learning

Researchers and Gram Sabha members from two hamlets conducted a transect walk across NTFP collection areas and documented plants that were used for subsistence as well as commercial purposes in scientific language and local parlance. Local birds sighted were also documented, with appropriate pronunciation guides for local names. The result is a collection of local flora and fauna that ATREE plans to convert into a bilingual field booklet that can be used to guide and sensitize religious tourist traffic (Rangaswamy temple, Pathere Madhesha and Sankamman temple) to forest and wildlife and also build awareness about not littering forest tracts.

Conservation and livelihoods programme

ATREE sees people's use of forest as an important part of conservation. Studies on the interface between natural resource management and livelihoods have established that a local community's right to resource or conservation area is a significant determining factor in the outcome of the conservation efforts. When access is granted in an ad hoc manner to all, including local communities, or withheld from the local, motivation for conservation is found to be low and can lead to indiscriminate resource use. On the other hand, where a local community has legal right to access resources, the assurance of sustained livelihood encourages sustainable harvest practices.
This is the basis of ATREE's Conservation and Livelihoods Programme, where the term livelihoods is interpreted in economic terms, plus accommodates elements that provide stability to livelihoods, or makes them less vulnerable: like tenure, legal right to access, coping mechanisms, alternative livelihood sources - especially in times of stress, presence or absence of representative community institutions and possibility of a more participative role.

Related reading

Livelihood gains and ecological costs of non-timber forest product dependence

Sustainable management of forest resources

Soligas and Lingayats are the two important forest-dependent communities in MM Hills. Their dependency over forest resources varies based on their land holding status, socio-economic condition, income sources etc. Both communities collect non-timber forest products (NTFP. See related reading: Building community ownership for sustainable harvest and co-management of forest resources) such as amla (Indian Gooseberry), broom grass (Phoenix) and magaliberu (Decalepishamiltonii), antwala (Sapindusemarginatus), sikkakai (Acacia concinna) and tamarind (Tamarindusindicus). Forest villagers are also dependent on the forest for water and fuel-wood. ATREE has collected baseline information on NTFP incomes of four villages in MM hills. It provides a view on key NTFP collection areas as well as the key NTFPs collected in these areas. ATREE works with villages falling in Komudikki-Kokkubare cluster (important NTFP collection area) towards sustainable use of NTFPs by creating value addition and market linkages for the NTFPs.

RFRA and environmental governance

One of the CCC objectives is to have communities participate and be involved in forest and resource governance. ATREE believes that effective natural resource governance requires decentralization at the local level, and without rights vested with communities, no governance can be effectively achieved. The recent legislation - The Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights Act), 2006 (RFRA) recognizing and granting individual and community rights to tribal people and other traditional forest dwellers, has provided the legal/policy space to locate efforts at strengthening collaborative management of the resource landscapes.

ATREE works with the lowest tier of self-governance - the Gram Sabha to facilitate the implementation of the Recognition of Forest Rights Act. RFRA acknowledges the rights of forest and forest dwelling communities over tenure and management of forest resources, and mandates the Gram Sabha for the implementation of the Act. The most basic requirement for this, which ATREE is helping move forward, is the presence of village level committees and Forest Management Committee (FMC) to administrate the collection and disposal of forest resources in a sustainable way. It is expected that the FMC will provide inputs regarding NTFP value addition, market for the products, and links with mainstream buyers.

Related reading

Rights, governance and conservation

ATREE has worked with Soliga Abhivruddhi Sangha (SAS), a local partner, to form Forest Rights Committees (FRCs) at the Gram Sabha level. ATREE has also prepared a manual on the Forest Rights Act, 2006 in Kannada for distribution to Gram Sabha members.

This manual familiarizes the reader with the processes required to claim forest rights. In addition, ATREE and SAS jointly conducted capacity building workshops for submitting documents for claiming community and individual rights as made possible by the Act.

Skills training

Over 250 families have been trained in the use of lantana over the last seven years, over 60 different products designed and produced, and a network of rural and urban market linkages established. With the help of the local forest department, ATREE has also undertaken restoration planting of the local flora.

Our experience has taught us that women, more than men, tend to stay on with the programme. With this learning, this year we consciously focused on training women in selected sites; with at least three sites that are nearly all-women. Viewed from a sociological perspective, we believe this is significant because the only other local employment option for women is marginal farming. Women are more vulnerable, with perhaps a daily wage at coffee estates, often far removed from their villages. We believe that the women-centric groups could have important spin-offs such as greater family stability.

There are five lantana craft centres, which directly market their products in and around the different sites, with profits shared among member artisans. ATREE has assisted artisans connect with mainstream markets, especially with existing government cooperatives such as TRIFED (Tribal Cooperative Marketing Development Federation of India), unit of Ministry of Tribal Affairs, Government of India. In the beginning of 2009, Mr. Ramanathan, Regional Manager and Mr. Balasubramanian, Senior Finance Officer of TRIFED accepted ATREE's invitation to visit Lantana Craft Centres (LCCs)at MM hills. After this, ATREE and TRIFED jointly organized a value added training programme on lantana. It was conducted by Mr. Sandeep Sangaaru, alumni of National Institute of Design (NID), Ahmedabad. Mr. Sangaaru and the artisans developed 15 new designs and modified 10 existing products designs with newly learned skills.

Diversifying the portfolio of lantana products: customizing products for rural and urban markets

In the period 2009-2012, the MM hills CCC team initiated several activities to popularize lantana craft and provide forward and backward market linkages. ATREE linked the Lantana Craft Centre (LCC) with NABARD-Karnataka for financial aid. With support from NABARD, ATREE organized a design workshop for the artisans (December 2010 to May 2011) at MM hills. ATREE invited Mr. Benny, a designer from Uravu, Indigenous Science and Technology Study Centre, Wayanad, Kerala to conduct the workshop at MM hills. This was initially conducted with five master craftsmen at MM hills. The objective of this workshop was to develop new products with more functional and utility value. The team developed 45 products. After the prototype development, local artisans in Palar and Hanne hola villages were also trained. Some products were not machine based, but were handicrafts. The range included key holders, key chains, candle stands, photo frames, clocks, mobile phone stands, necklaces, studs, lampshades etc. ATREE developed a training manual for the benefit of the local artisans.


Weed replaces depleting Pala indigo tree populations

Channapatna is 60km from Bangalore and world famous for its lacware toys made from Wrightiatinctoria, (Pala indigo). The toys are exported to Europe and USA in response to a booming demand for Channapatnalacware. In recent years, due to excessive harvesting, Wrightiatinctoria populations have been completely depleted in this region. ATREE developed toy prototypes using lantana instead of Pala indigo with the help of Channapatna artisans. More than 25 toy designs were approved. ATREE then established a lantana toys training unit in Hanne hola village in MM hills. The unit can accommodate six trainees. The trainees are exposed to different types of toys and utility products from lantana with the help of a trainer from Channapatna. Tribes India, a marketing outlet of TRIFED, Bangalore has come forward to market these toys through their chain of stores under their TRIBES India brand across India. TRIFED also promoted this innovative technology in Javadi Hills and Palani Hills with the help of Soliga artisans and the ATREE team at MM hills.

MM Hills began its Conservation Education initiative in 2010 with the formation of eco-clubs and teacher training programmes for schools in the area. The activities are framed around experiential learning that employs all the senses. It is now on the itinerary of the Wipro earthian’s Continuous Engagement Programme and theStudy Abroad programme.
Listed below are two conservation education event reports from MM Hills: