Conservation of Gandhamardan Forests by the Gandhamardan Surakshya Action Committee, Odisha
The Gandhamardan hills, in Balangir district of the East Indian state of Odisha, are a part of the Eastern Ghats in the Deccan Peninsular biogeographic region. They are covered with tropical moist deciduous forests. The Botanical Survey of India has reported an occurrence of 220 plant species of medicinal value, along with 2,700 angiosperms in the hills (Down to Earth, 2001). A variety of fauna such as wild bear, spotted tiger, barking and spotted deer etc, along with species listed under the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species such as pangolin, fan-throated lizard, Günther’s writhing snake, Jerdon’s bullfrog and ant frog, are found in the forests. Additionally, the hills harbor 42 perennial water streams that irrigate the agricultural fields of the nearby villages.
Need for the Initiative
The hills have an abundant reservoir of bauxite and have attracted several aluminum industries in the past for extraction of the ore. The hills faced other challenges such as rampant wildlife hunting and poaching activities; illegal trade of timber and NTFPs; and the use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides in the uplands, causing the degradation and contamination of the land and water resources. All this resulted in scarce resources for over 200 villages in the vicinity, comprising mostly of tribal population.
Conservation Initiatives and Impacts
The Gandhamardan Surakshya Action Committee (GSAC) was conceived in 1982 to address these challenges. It is the apex body of 133 village level action committees and has a three tier governance structure. It is rooted at the village level (Village level Gandhamardan Surakshya Action Committee) that has a male and a female representative from every household. Two members from each village level committee are nominated to the block level Executive Committee. The GSAC apex body has seven members (4 male and 3 female representatives) and the membership keeps changing on a rotation basis every two years. Village level meetings are organized every month and block-level meetings take place quarterly in the presence of the apex body where the conservation and management plans along with issues, are discussed. All decisions are taken in a participatory manner. Its purpose initially, was to protect the hills from aluminum producing companies intending to set up bauxite extraction facilities in the area, but subsequently it expanded its objective to conserve and sustainably manage the Gandhamardan hills ecosystem. The GSAC mobilized local communities in over 200 villages, towards conservation and management of 45 sq.km of its forest area. Till date, it has demarcated 239 eco-sensitive zones which are storehouses of medicinal plants, rare and endangered wildlife species, natural springs, sacred groves and community orchards. It has organized a series of ‘Paribesh Yajnas’, where the communities take an oath to protect and conserve the eco-sensitive zones. Ecosystem registers have been prepared by select few villages, recording 148 Rare, Endangered and Threatened (RET) species. GSAC has facilitated the plantation of over 3,500 saplings of such species in 32 zones. Biodiversity and Wildlife Protection Committees have been formed in each village to monitor illicit tree felling, unauthorized extraction of NTFPs and hunting and poaching activities. As a result, there is a significant reduction in the occurrence of such activities. To enhance livelihood opportunities, GSAC, in consultation with other institutions (Forest Department, TRIFED, NABARD and IDE India), has successfully established a supply chain for value added forest products and fixed a higher price for NTFPs, allowing their sale only to licensed traders. These initiatives have led to a significant increase in income of 42 Self Help Groups (SHGs), from 400 families, including 85 traditional healers. GSAC has also revived the traditional farming system, thus putting a stop to the cultivation of genetically modified species and use of chemical products. This has enhanced the productivity of the soil and improved water quality of the perennial streams. There has been a cessation of all mining activities in the region. A socio- economic support system has been set up by the SHGs and GSAC, providing financial assistance to 114 families. Community initiatives are being linked with various institutions and schemes such as linkages with departments of horticulture, agriculture and Medicinal Plant Board for providing technical support, convergence with MNREGA for forest conservation works and engaging media for advocacy of development issues.
Recognition in India Biodiversity Awards
Gandhamardan Surakshya Action Committee received special mention in the India Biodiversity Awards under the category ‘Community Stewardship’ in 2014.Contact -Amar Kumar Gouda Tel. +919437233593 Email: email@example.com