The Himalayas are a vast mountain system extending into eight developing countries in South Asia: Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, China, India, Myanmar, Nepal, and Pakistan. The fact that India is recognized as a mega-diversity country and as one of the ten most extensively forested areas in the world is due mainly to the Himalayas. Although it covers only 18% of India's geographical area, the Himalayas account for more than 50% of the country's forest cover and 40% of the species endemic to the Indian subcontinent.
Loss of forest cover, biodiversity, agricultural productivity, and ecosystem services in the Himalayan mountain region are interlinked problems and threats to the sustainable livelihoods of 115 million mountain people as well as the inhabitants of the adjoining Indo-gangetic plains. Until the 1970s, environmental conservation, food security, and rural economic development were treated as independent sectors. Development approaches commonly referred to as integrated natural resource research essentially meant the integration of ecological and socioeconomic research, traditional and conventional science, and different actors and stakeholders. However, multiple scales of environmental and development imperatives, from long to short term and from local to global, need to be considered in this type of undertaking. The identification of key natural resource management interventions is an important dimension of integrated management. Although knowledge about the principles and potential advantages of integrated approaches has increased in recent years, there are scientific, technological, and institutional limitations when it comes to putting the theory into practice.
Projects to rehabilitate the degraded lands that cover 40% of the Indian Himalayas could be key interventions provided that they address both socioeconomic and environmental concerns across spatial and temporal scales. However, projects of this type, e.g., investments in conifer plantations on degraded forest lands, have previously failed because their designs did not take into account the needs of local residents, therefore lacking essential elements of the INRM approach. The villagers deliberately damaged the conifer plantations, because they did not want conifers but rather broadleaved species that better served their needs. In addition, legislation in India does not allow the harvesting of conifers on steep hills, and therefore the farmers felt they could not get a direct commercial benefit from these plantations. Conifer plantations also failed for technical reasons: for example, transportation of seedlings from nurseries located in remote regions often damaged the planting material and resulted in poor growth.
This study illustrates a case of land rehabilitation in the small isolated village of Khaljhuni, which is on the margin of the Nanda Devi Biosphere Reserve in the Indian central Himalayas, close to the alpine zone. Vital elements of this project strategy included identifying local perceptions and knowledge and involving the local people in the implementation of the interventions needed to restore the land. Local communities were found to be more concerned with the immediate economic benefit from bamboo and medicinal species than with the long-term benefits of tree planting. The villagers eventually reached a consensus to plant broadleaved multipurpose trees in association with bamboo and medicinal species. Despite assurances that all the economic benefits from rehabilitation would go to the community, the people would not agree to voluntary labor, although they did absorb significant costs by providing social fencing, farmyard manure, and seeds from community forests. Households shared costs and benefits according to traditional norms. The economic benefits to the local people exceeded the rehabilitation cost over the 7-year life of the project. There were significant on-site environmental benefits in terms of improvements in soil fertility, biodiversity, protective cover, and carbon sequestration, and off-site benefits from more productive use of labor, reduced pressure on protected areas, and the introduction of rare and threatened medicinal species to private farmland.
Supplementing indigenous knowledge and the involvement of the whole village community in decision making appeared to be key requirements in the Himalayas for integrating and reconciling diverse concerns about land rehabilitation. The wide range of biophysical and socioeconomic conditions in the Himalayas demands flexible and adaptable approaches to the identification of appropriate rehabilitation technologies.
Experience shows that if INRM is to benefit many people across large areas, considerable political will, investment, and strategic planning from the outset are required. Success depends primarily on building working relationships between technical personnel and local farmers and other members of the participating communities. Community participation has to be ensured, often with the use of some type of incentive (Lovell et al. 2003). INRM aims to identify land-use practices that increase agricultural and forestry production while at the same time maintaining natural capital and continuing to provide environmental services at local and global scales. Once such practices are identified, their adoption by large numbers of people can be facilitated by a combination of educational campaigns and policy changes (Izac and Sanchez 2001).
It could be said that INRM is actually a rediscovery of traditional ways of managing common resources. Freudenberger et al. (1997) describe "tongo", a common property regime that regulates seasonal access to vegetation and wildlife located within village commons and on individually appropriated lands in many areas of The Gambia, Guinea, and Sierra Leone. The system ensures that a particular resource, such as fruits from domesticated and wild trees, or grasses used for thatch reach full maturity before being harvested by the community at large. The authors also give other examples of rules proclaimed by village chiefs restricting hunting, fishing, and cutting grass for thatch to certain seasons. The message is that these community-based rules can be a foundation for working with African indigenous knowledge and institutions to develop an alternative, yet distinctly African approach to resource conservation.
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