~ by Amrita Neelakantan (NCCI Coordinator)
A timely study by NCCI founder Prof. Ruth DeFries and collaborators lays out possible scenarios for minimizing risk of exposure to COVID-19 in rural India as the lockdown is relaxed and migrants return to their villages.
What we know
Seasonal migration is a widespread livelihood option for households in forest-fringe areas of Central India, moving people from villages to the country’s cities for up to 6 months in a year. Typically, these migrants are young males and they return to the village in time to plant monsoon crops. Seasonal migrants are generally poorer and less educated than those that migrate permanently (for work or education) . In the current pandemic of COVID-19, the risks of exposing rural India with returning migrants from cities is of major concern for both rural communities and government authorities, as well as for migrants who are desperate to return with no source of income during India’s lockdown.
Moreover, communities on the periphery of forest areas in the country are some of the most vulnerable and poorest. Central India, one of the main forested areas in the country, is important for tiger conservation and has a high proportion of Scheduled Tribe populations. In these villages of Central India, the poorest households use seasonal migration to supplement their incomes , increasing the risks of exposure to COVID-19 as migrants return. These villages are even more at risk as they have poor or non-existent health facilities and low quality diets in typically crowded households . Additionally, most households continue to use fuelwood with high indoor air pollution already causing respiratory problems . While the populations are not as dense as in cities, the spread from village to village and lack of medical facilities is a grave concern.
As of this writing, the country has been in lockdown since March 24th. Seasonal migrants are unable to access work or means to return home. News channels have documented migrants returning home on foot. Quarantine facilities have been set-up in villages but the quality and efficacy of these are unknown. The government restricted inter-state travel for migrants after April 20th. As restrictions ease, chances persist of exposure and spread to adjacent villages from migrants who have already returned.
Given the economic hardships of lockdown, the authors of this study provide some alternatives to severe physical distancing. The objective is to reduce chances of exposure while allowing people to obtain essential supplies, plant crops, and carry out other necessities of daily life. A post-COVID-19 path could be informed by their results.
The study uses data from a 2018 study that surveyed approximately 5000 households in 500 forest-fringe villages in Central India. The original study was to assess patterns of migration over the previous five years (2013 – 2018) and was unrelated to tracking disease spread.
What they found
The researchers found that seasonal migration is widely dispersed across forest-fringe villages of Central India. Eighteen percent of surveyed households sent migrant workers to cities in the last five years. Seventy-five percent of villages had a least one household with migrants, and all districts had a least one village with migrants. Similarly, migrants traveled to 124 locations over the last five years. Over eight percent of migrants went to cities were COVID-19 cases were reported at the beginning of the lockdown, based on the publicly-available COVID-19 tracker site (www.covid19india.org).
The researchers used a simple, epidemiological model of disease spread to examine different scenarios of movement between and within villages (Figure 2). Using varying R0 values (the basic reproduction number that represents the expected number of cases generated by an infected individual), the researchers allowed for scenarios with lenient (no restriction R0=3), moderate (some restriction to interactions R0=2) and maximal (highest restriction R0=1) movement within and between villages. The findings highlight how different strategies for easing lockdown restrictions might vary in terms of the number of people exposed in the unlikely but possible event of the virus reaching a village.
The most effective way to limit exposure is obviously to keep everyone within and across villages in lockdown. But as most Indians are now familiar with, keeping an indefinite lockdown is not feasible with many states already easing some restrictions to save India from economic hardship. The more important question then becomes, how one would begin opening up the lockdown or easing restrictions to balance the economic needs with necessary caution to avoid exposure to the virus.
This study reports, for a hypothetical case of exposure in one village, that maximal limitations to movement between villages with lenient movement within villages (middle scenario in Figure 2) exposes fewer people than moderate restrictions that apply to both within and across villages (bottom scenario).
Incidentally, the scenario that led to the least number of exposed people in the model is similar to New Zealand’s successful “social bubble” and communities’ efforts in India to restrict entry to villages.
~ by Kalyanee Paranjape
Given the tumultuous history of conservation and establishment of national parks, it is important to note that protected areas continue to provide various benefits to the local population. These benefits are not just limited to providing ecosystem services but also have shown to alleviate poverty. Various scholars have discussed these benefits by analyzing the various types of capital but few have evaluated them in a single system.
A recent paper titled, “Contributions of financial, social and natural capital to food security around Kanha National Park in central India”, sheds more light of this. The researchers have utilized the five capitals model of sustainable development – including financial capital, social capital, natural capital, human capital, to clarify associations between certain livelihood factors and food access in the Kanha National Park (KNP) landscape. This framework has allowed the researchers to explore locally contextual links between livelihood characteristics and well-being while also providing a way to compare across time and geography. The authors have focused on food security as a multidimensional aspect of well-being.
The study took place in central India (yellow inset) surrounding Kanha National Park (dark grey polygon), surveyed households are demarcated by black dots.
The paper revolves around three aspects, the status of food security around KNP, how it varies across seasons and geography; and the contribution of the three capitals including finance, social and natural to household level food security. The team used semi structure interviews to extensively survey around 800 household across three seasons (summer, monsoon and winter) to capture seasonal changes of food security and livelihoods.
~ by Amrita Neelakantan (coordinator NCCI)
To grow food sustainably means moving beyond the calorie-focus of the green revolution. Before we all ate rice and wheat as staples, there were other cereals in our diets and in our agriculture. The calorific gains from the green revolution while undeniable are proving to be too single-minded with a few persisting challenges like undernourishment, micronutrient deficiencies and groundwater depletion. To consider what sustainable crop production might mean for a country like India, this paper by Kyle Davis and co-authors built multiple scenarios of monsoon cereals.
The reason to focus on monsoon cereals is because the maximum production of the cereals that could be used to make the switch occurs alongside rice in monsoon and the fact that cereals make-up a large percentage of the typical Indian diet. The authors included cereals already in focus by the current nutrition policies and therefore they excluded maize. Each scenario built, keeps in mind the current calorie production and current extent of cropland.
They explain scenarios where crop-switching would provide improved nutrition security, environmental benefits, and climate resilience gains. The study provides a robust case for assessing trade-off analyses among nutrient supply, climate resilience, and environmental outcomes to create more sustainable food systems.
The main optimized scenarios that the authors build are: Maximum supply of protein or iron; maximum savings in water, energy and greenhouse gas emissions (GHG emissions); and finally maximum climate resilience. The authors define climate resilience as the least loss in production during a historically extreme dry year.
In the below scenario – the goal in mind is to have maximum water savings and help identify the places that might achieve the largest benefits. Highly sought after, such analyses can begin to help policy makers and managers on-the-ground focus on how best to manage water in the future by balancing demands by urban centers and agriculture within the state or district.
"In central India, the value of tigers is undeniable – culturally, ecologically, and economically. Kanha National Park (KNP) typifies the central Indian tiger landscape with high densities of tribal local populations, a globally recognized node for tiger conservation and ecotourism within a rapidly urbanizing countryside. The National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) set out a policy that has resulted in largely tribal human communities moving out of core tiger habitat (1). Around 850 households moved out of KNP (from 2011- to 2014) with monetary compensation, providing an opportunity to explore what happens after."
Amrita Neelakantan summarizes a recent paper for Science Trends. Read more here!
~ by Archita Sharma (University of Delhi)
Nested in Satpura-Mikal range lies the Kanha-Pench forest landscape, spanning over an area of 10,000 square kilometers. It connects two well-known tiger reserves: Kanha and Pench. This landscape is a mosaic of dry deciduous forests, rippling grasslands, and tanned scrublands, with almost 400 villages. Although protected reserves play a crucial role in conserving wildlife, many species of wild carnivores also depend on being able to occupy human-dominated spaces. There is little understanding of human-carnivore interactions in such shared spaces.
A new study published in Royal Society Open Science revealed habitat preferences, livestock predation, and conservation requirements for five lesser-known carnivores in the Kanha-Pench forest landscape. The results offer a framework for assessing human-carnivore interactions in other regions as well.
The study focused on four wild canid species - Indian grey wolf, Dhole, Indian jackal, and Indian fox. Striped hyena, which is closely related to wild canids in terms of behavior and ecology, was also included in the assessment. The research team used a unique socio-ecological framework for assessing carnivore occupancy and livestock depredation patterns by combining field data gathered from 1600 kilometers of indirect sign survey (scats and tracks) with 700 interview surveys of local residents. 10,000 square kilometers of the landscape was divided into 128 cells of 52 square kilometers each, and this grid-network was then used for data collection. Data on the distribution of free-ranging dogs in the study area was also included in the assessment.
Photo credits as on photo and Centre for Wildlife Studies (https://cwsindia.org/)
Project Spotlight highlights our members' work in Central India.
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