Monday, November 19, 2012

Preserving Grasslands: Meeting of Practitioners and Stakeholders

Karnataka's grasslands and grazing pastures under severe threat
Network formed for conservation and sustainable use of grasslands and grazing pastures

A workshop on ‘Preserving Karnataka’s Grasslands - A Meeting of Stakeholders and Practitioners’ was held in the Livestock Research and Information Centre (Amruthmahal) [LRIC (A)] in Konehalli. The workshop was organized by Maithreya Trust and LRIC(A), Konehalli Tiptur. Karnataka’s natural grasslands and grazing pastures are currently facing several challenges and their very survival is at stake. Such habitats support a variety of wildlife, including the rare Indian Black Buck, and support diverse livelihood options.

Besides, these grasslands offer a distinctive habitat for hardy cow varieties such as the Amruthmahal breed. Deterioration of quality of such habitats due to bad management practices or diversion to other purposes is drastically affecting pasture space and bloodlines of Amruthmahal, a critical feature of the cultural landscape of rural areas. The emphasis of Government policy on promoting exotic breeds is seriously compromising the ability of local communities conserving and sustaining Amruthmahal type of breeds.

Participants in the workshop discussed with serious concern that existing Government policies are diverting such grasslands to a variety of commercial and institutional purposes. For instance, Bidirammanna Gudi Amruthmahal Kaval, spread over 1,500 acres in Tumkur, which is a critical habitat supporting a large black buck population, is sought to be diverted for establishing a Coconut Technology Park. Over 8,500 acres in Kudapura and Dodda Ullaarthi Kaval of Chitradurga district, is being diverted for the setting up a second campus of the Indian Institute of Science, and facilities of Defence Research Development Organisation, Bhabha Atomic Research Center, etc.

In formulating such decisions, neither the Panchayats nor grassland dependent communities such as nomadic shepherds and native cattle keepers are consulted and their consent obtained. Such draconian policies and decisions are a direct and irreversible threat to the sustainability of such natural resource dependent communities, and could well result in the loss of various varieties of local cattle breeds. Needless to state, it may cause the local extinctions of Schedule I species such as the Black Buck and the Dhole (Indian Wild Dogs). Such illegal diversion of commons is forcing communities dependent on such spaces to sell their livestock. Consequently, a cultural tradition honed to perfection over hundreds of years is being lost due to such short-sighted policies.

The lack of a clear policy of the Government in protecting such grasslands is also causing disturbance and annihilation of various rights of local communities. For eg., local deities and cultural practices which are intricately linked to such landscapes are eroded, and even lost. This in turn, incapacitates traditional herders in sustaining their herding practices, which form a critical component of traditional knowledge and wisdom which are protected by the Biological Diversity Act. While their economic conditions worsen, and livelihood rights affected, it also reveals the emptiness in the rhetoric of the Government and International agencies, who proclaim the importance of protecting such habitats and livelihoods that are dependent on them from their pulpits in major meetings such as the recently concluded Convention on Biological Diversity in Hyderabad.

The discussion also focused on the minimal attention being paid by the Government to build governance and management capacities of local communities as endowed in the Forest Right Act, 2006 and the Biological Diversity Act, 2002. Not constituting Forest Rights Committees and Biodiversity Management Committees in the true spirit of the law is seriously compromising fundamental rights of local communities, and what’s worse, resulting in the loss of knowledge of conservation of such habitats. 

The acute focus on only protecting and conserving forests understood in the classical sense as filled with trees, is also resulting in total neglect of grasslands. Often the latter are viewed as “wastelands” and thus making is easy for their diversion to industrial and infrastructure purposes. The workshop also discussed the critical importance of protecting grasslands as watershed and biodiversity havens. In fact, it was emphasized that grasslands must be protected as “Biodiversity Heritage Sites” based on an in situ model of conservation and management involving all communities dependent on them for their livelihoods and survival.

The meeting concluded with a decision to organize a network of shepherd and native cattle keepers, grassland ecologists, biodiversity experts, farmers, policy and law researchers, etc. at the State level and ensure that the conservation and sustainable use of grasslands and grazing pastures as natural habitats must be a priority for the benefit of present and future generations. The network will also identify major grasslands that need to be protected immediately, while focusing on developing laws and policies that will integrate their conservation as a critical component of village development plans and district planning procedures. The emphasis would be to devolve and decentralize the governance of grasslands so that their natural elements are protected, while also accommodating wisely their use for sustenance of various livelihood options.

The workshop involved the participation from across the state. Members of various organizations and institutions viz Karnataka Rajya Raitha Sanga matthu Hasiru Sene, Tumkur & Chikkamagalooru; Akhila Bharath Kisan Sabha, Chitradurga; Janadhani Chikkamagalooru; Environment Support Group, Bengalooru; Alternative Law Forum, Benglooru; Wildlife Awareness Nature Club, Tumku; Mysore Amateur Naturalists, Mysore; Foundation for Ecological Security, Chintamani; Tumkur & Hassana Science Centre; Gubbi Labs, Gubbi; Amruthmahal Kaval Ulisi Horata Samithi Karnataka; Amrithmahal and other native livestock keepers from Gadag, Haveri, Chitradurga and Davangere participated in the meet.

Manohar, Jahnavi, Vinay & Leo

Maithreya Parisara Adhyana Kendra, Tiptur

Ph: 09008729784

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