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Established since 1963 

Keeping to the basic needs

4th. October, 1998


Man’s need is a chief destroyer of biodiversity through over exploitation. From India, however, comes a showcase tribal project focused on imparting sustainable harvesting techniques to cut out the excesses.

The project is happening at the 540 sq. km Karatika Wildlife Sanctuary, South India- rated a very biodiverse forest which teems with plants and wild animals like elephants, tigers, leopards plus

"5000 tribals living inside," said Rajan Siddappa Setty, a research associate with Ashoka Trust for Research in Ecology and Environment (ATREE).

Rajan was in Kinabalu Park in June to attend the People and Plants Southeast Asia Certificate Training on Applied Ethnobotany. The indigenous tribe had in times past lived in the sanctuary on shifting cultivation and hunting.

"When the area was incorporated into a wildlife sanctuary in 1972, both shifting cultivation and hunting were banned and now they are relying more on the timber, minor forest products like fruits and honey," Rajan said.

But they could grow padi and other indigenous crops although they had problems with the wild animals. The people were basically poor.

Five years ago, Rajan and associates did a preliminary survey on both people and forest in sanctuary.

"We found over 60 per cent of their incomes came from minor forest products like honey and fruits but it was obvious they were over-harvesting and over-exploiting, eventually losing species and all, ", he said.

Furthermore, they sold their minor products to outside "without any value additions," Rajan added.

So, Rajan, working initially under the auspicious of Data NGL Research Institute, initiated a Biodiversity Conservation Project for implementation in the sanctuary.

"Our project had three components. They were biological monitoring; social economic and enterprise," he said.

"We did a lot of studies on biological monitoring to understand what impact was there from harvesting," he said.

"Such studies include assessing the species richness and availability; productivity estimation; regeneration studies, impact of harvests on species: level of harvest; quantity of harvest and percentage of harvest, that is, how much they can harvest from the sanctuary and things like that," Rajan said.

The social economic studies included household surveys; collection of data how they were getting income from the forests, how much and how many people were involved - men, women and children in harvesting those products.

A major project objective was to improve tribal incomes, Rajan said.

"We set up an Enterprise Component, with the grants that we had, to process those non-timber products," he said.

The enterprise is registered in the tribe's name and owned by them, employ only tribal, maintain the accounts, do the marketing of the final products - everything and they ate now beginning to reap it’s benefits.

"Just a couple of months back, the enterprise component made about US$300,000 (more than RMl million!) profits. We distributed this to the harvesters as an incentive," Rajan said.

As a result of this incentive, a lot of interest was generated and more people became involved, he pointed out.

"Some of these tribal people are really good and so they picked up easily marketing strategies and processing," he said.

"What we are doing now is Participatory Resource Monitoring, that is involving local people in conservation."

Knowledge sharing is the hallmark of this effort.

"We are teaching them how to harvest, how to use better strategies, how much they could take from the forest, teaching how to do regeneration studies, productivity estimation, level of harvest and percentage of harvest they can do," Rajan said.

To effect this scheme, two categories of people were involved, one at the scientific level and the other at the harvester level.

On the one hand, we were the research scientists and we involved a group of educated tribals to learn the scientific methods because the project has a sunset date," he said.

"ln time to come, these trained tribals will maintain the forest themselves; they have to monitor the forest themselves. In that way, we are training them a lot so that they understand the scientific methods of doing all that," Rajan pointed out.

"For people at the harvester level, we are preparing manuals for them, teach them how to enter information, how to collect data from the forest and what is going on in the forest," he said.

"What we are doing is sharing information with the local people," he said.

"At the end of the project, they'll have two responsibilities: One - maintaining the enterprise component ; two -monitoring the species and make sure of their sustainable harvest strategies," Rajan said.

Over the past five years, the project was under Data NLG Research Institute under which Rajan worked for the past four years but extended to its 6th year under a new organization named Ashoka Trust for Research in Ecology and Environment (ATREE).

On how he found the course on Applied Ethnobotany at the Kinabalu Park, Rajan said it was a well known professor of reporoductive ecologist at the University 9f Massachusetts, Boston, his project's principal investigator, who recommended the course to him.

"He likes me very much. I love forests. I love local people. I want to be in the forest. He told me I should attend to get more knowledge on people and plants. That's how I got here," he explained.

It was quite interesting because people are different disciplines. Some are anthropologists, some botanists, some social scientists and I am a botanist. I have done MSc botany in Bangalore University," Rajan said.

But what he found very useful at Kinabalu Park was a special course on geographical Information System.

"This was very interesting because we had plans to do wildlife mapping in our sanctuary which tells you what are the resources available where they are, what density. So a map like this is quite helpful," Rajan said.

However, Rajan is avetry much a trainer in his own right.

When second part of the three part eight week course was held in Subic Bay Philippines, he was a resource person who taught the participants how to do regeneration studies, productivity estimation, sustainable harvesting of non-timber forest products.

So I took them to the forest near Subic Bay for five days and taught them methods of sustainable utilization of non-timber forest products and medicinal plants. I enjoyed that," he said.

Copyright 1998, Daily Express, Sabah, Malaysia. All Rights Reserved.

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