Mr. Tog Chand, hailing from Salgram hamlet of Lahaul Spiti in Himachal Pradesh, has been an environment and social activist for several decades and his work has created a lasting impact on the lives of a large number of local people. He is recognised for his efforts towards greening of the mountains and enhancing local farm produce. Mr. Chand was driven by the belief that conservation is important in order to maintain the ecological and environmental balance. Thus, he started ex-situ conservation of the endangered varieties like Wild Garlic, Kuth, Karu, and Patish, which he collected from the forests and grew on his conservation plot. However, his journey has not been easy and he had to overcome several hurdles including poor road connectivity and unfavourable weather conditions. Mr. Chand’s initiatives towards conserving indigenous varieties also includes creation of a “seed bank” for the distribution of these rare plant varieties to local farmers. It also includes developing a livelihood model that involves a direct sustainable trade of such medicinal varieties between farmers and companies through enterprises like Lahaul Medicinal Plants Society. The model serves the purpose of conservation and at the same time promotes livelihoods among the locals. He has also organised various plantation drives to restore the degraded lands of the mountains and established an NGO named ‘Lahaul – Spiti Paryavaran Suraksha Samiti’ for this reason. It aims to promote restoration in Salgram hamlet and the neighboring valleys.

Need for the Initiative

The necessity to conserve the indigenous species stemmed from the concern that these species were grown only on the small farms and unless intense conservation efforts were made, these species would gradually become rare and even become extinct. The farmers also lacked an incentive for the cultivation of medicinal plants in their fields because of lack of a market for these products. The challenges were intensified by poor road networks in the region and the unfavourable climate which created difficult working conditions. Mr. Tog Chand wanted to address this problem as this would aid in conservation as well as help the farmers financially. Another challenge that Mr. Tog Chand wanted to address was the destruction of the mountains’ forests, necessitating rapid action to save the degrading lands. Mr. Tog Chand had identified the necessity of conservation, but he had to face several hurdles in order to achieve his goals. A lack of intensive farming practices exacerbated by the region’s poor road connectivity and unfavourable weather conditions like snowfall that covers the farms for half of the year, impeded the conservation efforts. In addition to these challenges, Mr. Chand also had to struggle against institutions like National Hydroelectric Power Corporation (NHPC). He discovered that a proposed hydroelectric project would harm around two lakh trees and wildlife in the neighbouring valley (Mini Manali), and the project was thus halted by the National Green Tribunal (NGT).

Conservation Initiatives and Impacts

Mr. Tog Chand has taken several initiatives to conserve traditional varieties and also encouraged participation of his community in such initiatives, thus exemplifying the importance of a participatory approach in conservation.
• Mr. Tog Chand, to preserve and propagate traditional species, developed his own conservation plot for growing these species like wild garlic, Kuth, Karu, Patish, doop, naagchatri, ratanjoot, etc., which are of high medicinal value in pharmaceutical products like Chyavanparash. Many of these species, including Kuth, are highly endangered in this region.
• As a Community/Institutional Effort, he has maintained a ‘seed bank’ and collection of all the traditional crops and provides seeds to farmers and local community according to their needs and motivates them to grow medicinal plants.
• To enable afforestation in the degrading lands of the region, he encourages plantation drives in which he involves participation of youth volunteers, mahila sangathan and other community members. He has been able to plant a large number of fruiting trees which have had a remarkably high survival rate. His work with the forest department has resulted in Rs. 10,000 fine for tree felling in the area.
• Mr. Tog Chand has also helped develop a livelihood model that involves a direct sustainable trade of medicinal varieties between farmers and companies via organisations like Lahaul Medicinal plants Society. This trade has motivated the farmers and local community to grow such species on private land and thus, provides dual benefits of livelihood and conservation.
• He has also been working in close association with mahila sangathan members and youth volunteers to bring positive change in his community towards environment sensitization and encouraging their active participation. Mr. Tog Chand’s primary contribution has been towards spreading awareness among the local populace about conservation strategies and the importance of traditional plant types, which would enable the continuity of this conservation practice. Mr. Tog Chand’s vision and leadership have resulted in the greening of the mountains and the enhancement of local horticultural produce. His consistent efforts have immensely contributed towards the conservation of rare, endangered, and vulnerable plant varieties on the verge of extinction. He has successfully established a ‘seed bank’, through which he distributes seeds to local farmers and encourages them to plant traditional types in their farms. In addition, with the support of the Lahaul Medicinal Plant Society, a direct sustainable trade of farm produce has been established between farmers and corporations has been formed. His long-term vision includes restoration of dry areas such as Harsal, Sargal, Tindi, Surchand with the involvement of Mahila mandal and Youth mandal to improve soil quality and flora-fauna of the region. He now has a team of youth volunteers with him working towards conservation.

Recognition in India Biodiversity Awards

Conservation of Domesticated Species (Individual) SPECIAL MENTION 2021 India biodiversity awards.