~ By Satvik Parashar
Conservation on a holistic level that maintains biodiversity as well as local livelihood requires collaborations across scientists, local people, decision-makers and practitioners. Such strategy engages NGOs, researchers and governments within what is called a Science, Policy and Practice Interface (SPPI). This calls for the involvement of a socio-ecological network that drives collaborations between trans-disciplinary organizations and measures the effectiveness of the knowledge gained through this collaboration, for multiple goals. Our network – the NCCI is one such network, and a recent paper by Amrita Neelakantan, Kishore Rithe, Gary Tabor and Ruth DeFries discusses the institutional context within which NCCI operates and indicators that could measure our work in the future.
The familiar Central Indian Highlands cover an area of more than 450000 sq. kms, spanning the states of Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh. The landscape consists of several Protected Areas (PAs) and Tiger Reserves (TRs), and is home to a variety of flora and fauna.
Central Indian Highlands and protected areas landscapes. (a) India and location of the Central Indian Highlands (CIH)region across three states (Yellow and orange polygons depicting parts Madhya Pradesh (MP), Chhattisgarh (CH) and Maharashtra (MH) states) as well as PAs (green polygons). (b) Forest cover (dark green) in the region with embedded PAs (lighter green polygons) show corridors between the PAs
~ by Amrita Neelakantan
The Narmada river has shaped much of the central Indian landscape. It is also known as "Life Line of Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat” with its invaluable contribution to the two states in many quantifiable and unquantifiable ways providing water for the heart of India and all of the people and wild places that it flows through. The Narmada starts from the Amarkantak plateau in Anuppur district of Madhya Pradesh and flows westwards over a length of 1,312 km before draining into the Arabian sea. Bordered by the Vindhya and Satpura ranges, the Narmada is one of three major rivers flowing from the east to the west. More on the river basin – here.
Source: Photo; Map
A recent study by Prof. Tarun Kumar Thakur (from the Department of Environmental Science at the Indira Gandhi National Tribal University in Amarkantak) and collaborators uses satellite imagery to look at decadal changes in land use within the upper catchment of the Narmada river. The study strongly suggests planners of urbanizing areas utilize spatial information from satellites to conduct similar studies to manage water resources in the face of climate change related struggles ahead. As is now common knowledge, water will be one of the main resources we will have to manage to the best of our abilities given uncertainty in monsoon rainfall and growing urban centres in central India.
An important consideration is that the Narmada and its tributaries such as Gayatri, Savitri, Kapila, Baitarini, Arandi emerging from Amarkantak region are all are fed by rain water. In years with ample rainfall there is a consequent positively correlation to the flow in these rivers. The Maikal range where these tributaries and the Narmada originate are under tremendous anthropogenic stress – indicators of which are clear in the changing land use and land cover dynamics as described for the Narmada catchment in this study.
~ by Prameek Kannan
The paper explores the legal system of indigenous, forest dependent, tribal communities in Central India, and the multiple factors that influence its production. Forest dependent communities are not only an integral part of their ecosystems, but are a crucial ally for conservation initiatives as well. There have been few studies on the legal systems of indigenous tribes in India; this study looks to understand the same using a post-humanism approach. Posthumanism is a philosophy that considers humans in relation to ecology and technology, as opposed to in isolation, and therefore is an appropriate lens with which to view the environmental entities that influence tribal law in these communities. Here, the author looks to look at the role played by non-human entities in the production of the legal systems of these tribes.
~ by Kalyanee Paranjape
As one of the fastest growing economies in the world, India’s topography is undergoing rapid changes. Due to this expansion, ecosystems are under threat due to rapid land use changes and fragmentation. This has led to a growing interest in integrating conservation concerns in infrastructure development in India and an urgent need to illustrate the extent of their fragmentation.
A recent paper titled, “Bits and pieces: Forest fragmentation by linear intrusions in India”, aims to understand the impact of infrastructure developments on forest structural connectivity in India through analyzing forest patch characteristics. The authors have utilized patch size, amount of perforation and inter-patch distance to quantify clusters and fragmentation categories. Cluster analysis was used to identify large, intact patches that need to be preserved in future development action plans. And results were summarized at the national scale and for the existing protected area (PA) network. The results also cover two important conservation landscapes; the Western Ghats and Central India, which are rich in biodiversity and critical for survival of several threatened large mammals including tiger and Asian elephant.
The scientists found an increase in the number of forest patches and a reduction in the number of large patches due to linear infrastructure in India. High tension power-transmission lines and major roads were the most common linear intrusions within forests, and 70 % of the assessed protected areas had some amount of linear infrastructure passing through them. They also discovered that the highest fragmentation due to linear intrusions was observed in Central India, where an intact forest habitat of size 162,000 km2 was split into 5200 smaller patches with a mean patch size of 30 km2 and the largest patch being 16,850 km2 in size.
The authors recommend that infrastructure projects should not be established through the existing forests and when inevitable, proper mitigation strategies are vital to maintain connectivity. A more rational development plan would be to connect larger numbers of villages or people while safeguarding forests rather than to establish the shortest routes that would destroy forests, biodiversity, and ecosystem services. The study addresses the issue of fragmentation within forests and develops techniques that can be usefully applied to mitigate fragmentation problems in other fragile ecosystems such as tropical grasslands and savannas.
Spatial distribution of forest patches and their size: (a) Depicts the patch size distribution as influenced by infrastructure; (b) Depicts patch size distribution in absence of infrastructure intrusion.
Original Paper: Nayak, R., Karanth, K. K., Dutta, T., Defries, R., Karanth, K. U., & Vaidyanathan, S. (2020). Bits and pieces: Forest fragmentation by linear intrusions in India. Land Use Policy, (September 2018), 104619. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.landusepol.2020.104619
~ 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.
Project Spotlight highlights our members' work in Central India.
|Network for Conserving Central India||