Forests and locals of Himalayas are facing more challenges than ever. Extraction of bio resources is largely contributing to women drudgery and pressure on forests in Central Himalaya. Locals are looking for more practical alternatives that can also provide alternative livelihood to them. Let’s explore!
Most of the valleys in higher Himalayas are very inaccessible. Enhanced human dependence, interference and extreme climate events have added to the misery of locals. Deprived socio-economic status of locals has always been largely responsible for the total dependence of locals on forests. Availability of fodder for livestock during lean winter periods is a huge dilemma. In Garhwal part of Central Himalaya, cattle are generally stall-fed, but sometimes they are also left for grazing in nearby forests and pastures. I have been working in the Upper Kedarnath valley of Garhwal since, 2005 initially for my study on natural and man-made pressures and their impact on forests for my PhD and later for implementing solutions based on my study.
Women are considered “backbone of hill economy “in Garhwal. During my study I noticed women and girls walking up even before daybreak during cold and dry winters. They were leaving their houses and walking long distances for collecting fodder. Women sometimes also climbed mountains and trees to collect fodder because of unavailability of fodder in forests. They were back by forenoon with pending household chores waiting for them. “My wife has to walk longer distances for collecting fodder everyday and especially in winters for surplus fodder requirement that affects her health in big way” informs Beerulal of Maikhanda village in Upper Kedarnath Valley. I could also notice most of the men not being involved in collection. But many a times situations gets worse during fodder collection and they fell from rocks and trees fracturing their bones and in extreme situations they die because of inadequate medical help.
I completed my PhD field work in 2008 with detailed evaluations of all sorts of biomass flow from forests to nearby villages and their impact. Extraction of biomass and species preference is largely based on the indigenous knowledge and skills developed by years of experience of locals in forest related activities rather than scientific justifications. Hence, based on conclusions of my work and more excursions to other remote valleys of Garhwal and Kumaon in Central Himalaya I could understand wider picture about the issue.
I had a plan to develop a fodder based model on a community waste land to ensure round the year fodder supply. I shared my thoughts and concept with locals by organising a small meeting of Mahila Mangal Dals in few villages of Upper Kedarnath valley in 2008. Most of the locals particularly women readily agreed to test the concept.
I went with my concept to state level sensitization meet of Department of Science and Technology, Govt. of India in November 2008 with expectation for some finances to materialise my concept. To my surprise even senior level scientists seemed pleased with the perception. Some of them were curious too. “Why don`t you increase your grant amount? Why not plant multipurpose species?” commented one of the senior level scientists. “I will be focussing on fodder species because if I choose multipurpose trees I will be inviting wild animals to fruit trees and they might be threat to crops of locals” I answered. After a series of queries and responses they were convinced and were ready to provide me grant for my work.
So, I was ready with some funds and in next few months we started our field activities. After a detailed discussion and taking opinion of both locals and experts I focussed on of fodder trees, shrubs and grasses that were indigenous, fast growing, high biomass yielding, nutritious and in long run could provide some economic benefits too. The indigenous species were selected by people based on their need, their indigenous knowledge about species with regards to enhanced lactation and better nutrition of animals. More than eight years of my research on forest ecosystems and people’s interaction helped me in identifying and prioritizing species for plantation.
Maikhanda village cluster in Upper Kedarnath Valley of Central Himalaya with a majority of poor and scheduled people with limited resources was chosen for model site. Willingness of local communities to provide village community land for fodder bank and some agriculture land for nursery helped us tremendously. Series of meetings with women and motivated men were held before and during execution of each activity i.e. fodder plantation, species selection, pits digging, fencing, land preparation etc.
Initiatives were also taken to focus on mass propagation of some lesser known and multipurpose tree species which are very much preferred as fodder available from agro-forests and degraded areas on road sides. In the initiative we also ensured to introduce some fast growing grass species that are not going to be detrimental to the biodiversity. Trenches were dug in the entire fodder bank site to enhance the percolation of water and survival of fodder plants. A cost effective Rain water harvesting tank was also constructed using local resources to store the rain water as the area faces shortage of water during summers.
During our plantation and capacity building programmes we discovered that most of the locals are planting fodder trees and grasses just out of their interest and they are totally unaware about scientific plantation and multiplication techniques. Some women were even too excited initially in grabbing free of cost seedlings without understanding that not all species can grow on all altitudes.
They were stiff in starting the experiment in their own kitchen gardens “This is all by government for us only” yelled one of the dominant looking woman in the group. Sustainable harvesting of fodder from trees and shrubs was also demonstrated in these small capacity building training programmes. Taking a step ahead while we started our activities at the fodder bank site we also started plantation of all these high biomass, fast growing grasses on cropland bunds of locals.
After almost a year from 2010 onwards more than 65 household of the village initially reported 15 harvestings every month and stall feeding of Napier grass and other indigenous fodder species to their milching animals. There are few families in the village those are not visiting nearby forests anymore. Number of women beneficiaries is increasing every six months who are introducing these fast growing high biomass yielding species in their own cropland bunds and kitchen gardens. Lactation yield of local livestock has also improved and directly indicating the nutritional quality of the fodder.
For the sustainability of this whole concept after three years in 2012 the model was transferred to local Mahila Mangal Dals. Women of the village consider it their own community forest and harvest fodder on a rotational basis. Person not abiding with regulations have to pay compensation that directly goes in maintenance of nursery and fodder bank site. Nursery is still running with nominal financial support from me and selling seedlings and fodder seeds at nominal cost.
Locals have not stopped yet and they are still working in multiplication and plantation of these fast growing grasses on cropland bunds of entire village to become a green and self sufficient village in long run. For women and locals of the valley, Fodder bank Model has brought the discovery that the solution to seasonal fodder deficit, and milk output from, lies not with the cattle, but with growing smart grass.
Photo: Capacity building for planting fodder grasses
Blogpost by Dr.Shalini Dhyani, Scientist, CSIR-NEERI (Nagpur, Maharashtra, India) – shalini3006(at)gmail.com
Photo by Dr. Deepak Dhyani
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