The landscapes in the North Western Ghats- a global biodiversity hotspot -especially in the coastal districts of Maharashtra – Raigad, Ratnagiri and Sindhudurg are very rich in bio-cultural diversity. Many rare and endemic species are found in these landscapes. Similarly, there exist age old traditional practices which conserve these species. However, majority of the forests in this region are privately or community owned and thus face significant threats on account of development projects, expansion of subsidy driven agriculture and indiscriminate felling of trees to satisfy short term monetary needs of local communities. Waning faith in local traditions and migration of younger generation to urban areas make the local communities and natural resources vulnerable to exploitation. This could be only halted through engagement with key stakeholders in this landscape - local communities and civil society, capacity building in conservation and sustainability and on ground measures to avoid deforestation. Through this initiative, AERF engaged with more than 25 civil society organizations and communities from over 50 villages from North Western Ghats for highlighting the need to prioritize conservation in development agenda over span of 3 years. AERF organized stakeholder workshops at Dapoli, Nashik and Pune. At the end of the third workshop in Pune, all the participants unanimously decided to form North Western Ghats Conservation Network – a platform to discuss the conservation issues and threats to biodiversity in the North Western Ghats. A very unique achievement of this initiative was AERF’s engagement with local communities from villages Asaniye and Dabhil in Sindhudurg to avoid mining by providing technical support to the local communities , making a strong case for biodiversity conservation through advocacy with government officials at local, regional and national level.
A detailed report on biodiversity assessment covering 22 villages and forest area of 1000 acres was prepared and submitted to respective government agencies for avoiding mining in this region.
More importantly, local communities committed to conserve 100 hectares of forest through conservation agreement of 10 year period in village Asaniye. The fact that 22 villages from this region in Sahyadri Konkan Corridor decided to opt for designation of Ecologically Sensitive Zone is testimony to AERF’s success in community engagement for biodiversity conservation.
In addition, AERF could bring about 200 acres of community forests from Ratnagiri district under long term protection through conservation agreement.