Towards building societies that are in harmony with nature for sustainability

The fragmented landscape within Sahyadri-Konkan Corridor (SKC) boasts of rich biodiversity on account of wide presence of community managed sacred groves and vast tracts of private forests. It however faces ever growing threats through environmentally insensitive development projects and deforestation. There are important similarities in features, aspects and threats between the Satoyama Landscapes and mosaic landscapes from the project region from the SKC. On the other hand, the establishment of Sahydri-Tiger Reserve and categorization of large tracts of private forest areas in Ratnagiri and Sindhudurg districts of Maharashtra as ‘Ecologically Sensitive Zone’ by the Ministry of Environment Forests and Climate Change ( MoEFCC) created enabling conditions for promoting conservation initiatives in this area.AERF’s initiative and a project to create harmony with nature aimed to address the critical gap between strict conservation regime and environmentally disastrous development by building on following opportunities using market based instruments at priority sites in the Sahyadri-Konkan corridor. The project addressed key threats to the biodiversity like deforestation, land use change, land degradation and loss of biodiversity and depletion of ecosystem services.

The project successfully tested following innovative mechanisms/approaches for exploiting vast untapped potential of nature based solutions in providing sustainable economic alternatives while delivering significant conservation outcomes at the same time.

One of the key threats faced by the forest landscape in the SKC in Maharashtra is deforestation. For addressing deforestation, AERF scaled up the successful incentive based conservation approach. AERF signed conservation agreements with local communities to ensure long term and participatory conservation of private forests at new priority sites and also up-scaled agreements at earlier sites. Conservation agreements were proposed as a conservation strategy for villages having good forest cover identified near CEPF priority sites and based on preliminary survey of the forests in these villages.

A typical conservation agreement lasts for five to ten years. Once agreed for joint efforts to protect and conserve AERF helps owners and groups of owners to develop and pilot-test range of innovative conservation ideas. Cash incentives upon signing the agreements, employment to couple of youth from villages as Forest watchers and continuous capacity building for conservation are the main elements of building harmony. Biodiversity monitoring with communities is another key feature of the conservation agreement programme that helps maintain communities interest and build their capacity to understand the forests.

For demonstrating the benefits of biodiversity and tree cover, AERF helped harnessthe significant potential of medicinal plants and discouraged destructive harvesting practices.

AERF promoted sustainable collection of selected medicinal plants using the protocol of certification schemes such as FAIRWILD . It would add value to resource, create a steady and sustainable revenue stream and make NTFP collection economically attractive to the local people. The monitoring of sustainable collection was carried out by trained community members and representative of Pukka Herbs who has extensive experience in preparing management plan for sustainable collection of medicinal plants and has also visited proposed collection sites. AERF also contributed to participatory conservation of selected sacred groves at priority sites in SKC. AERF promotes culturally acceptable non-invasive collection of commercially important NTFP species from sacred groves. Similarly, AERF offered trainings to local youth in operating GPS, bird identification, monitoring of nests and other similar acitvities and also offers them employment in conservation enterprise. AERF carried out mapping and valuation of ecosystem services of Sacred groves for securing long term conservation of these key biodiversity areas.

Continuous support and increasing constituency are the key factors to any successful conservation initiative. AERF has been constantly engaging with the private sector for promoting investment in biodiversity conservation in the SKC. AERF could engage successfully with companies such as Innoventive Industries, Praj , Pukka Herbs and Credit Suisse. Of these, Praj, Pukka Herbs and Innoventive Industries made financial commitments for supporting conservation agreement approach to avoid deforestation while AERF started working with Credit Suisse for volunteer engagement. AERF also made significant effort for making biomass briquette manufacturing biodiversity sensitive.

3000 acres

Of private forests brought under long term protection through conservation agreements

5+ Sacred groves

linked to conservation enterprise through participatory management

Capacity enhancement

Of local communities and CSOs in economic opportunities of biodiversity and ecosystem services

4 biodiversity

Based enterprises pilot tested

Engagement with 4

Private sector companies for promoting biodiversity conservation in the North Western Ghats