~ 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
The local communities in the landscape depend on a range of activities for their livelihood, including agriculture, forest produce collection, tourism and urban activities. The NCCI works towards providing a knowledge-base and platform for collaborations that improve the well-being of local communities and increasing wildlife conservation in the region. This is achieved through: conserving habitat for wildlife; protecting watersheds; promoting sustainable tourism; and accommodating development needs for improved infrastructure. The study put emphasis on the role of community involvement in decision making with regards to conservation, and how the bottom-up approach to policy making could be more successful in restoration efforts than the top-down approach. However, in the Central Indian Landscape, there is a disconnection between local communities and decision making bodies. NGOs in the region bridge this gap by; engaging from village micro-plans to the larger conservation plans, working with locals in cases of resettlement, aiding Local Advisory Committee members in producing recommendations for Tiger Conservation plan, and undertaking other activities that streamline local interests with the forest department mandates. The researchers within the NCCI aim to provide actionable science and knowledge that underpins these efforts by NGOs and government bodies. The study identified characteristics of the NCCI to measure the effectiveness of its input in policy and decision making. These were; the composition of the network and its members’ affiliation; research areas and collaboration among the members; and, outreach through social media and press coverage. The majority of NCCI membership was comprised of researchers affiliated with academic institutions (40%) and individuals affiliated with NGOs (39%), with a relatively small fraction of its members affiliated with government institutions (15%).
Composition of the NCCI. The Network for Conserving Central India (NCCI) is prominently made of academic institutions (blue) and Non-Governmental Organizations (orange). There is representation from government institutions (grey) and other stakeholders (yellow) but in fewer numbers.
Major focal areas of peer reviewed papers by NCCI’s members were wildlife (connectivity and corridors, human wildlife categories and wildlife ecology) and livelihood, whereas forest ecology, climate and agriculture had less representation (see figure below). Author and co-authors of published papers belonged to the same group for NGOs and researchers (46% and 28% respectively) in this first effort to characterize the NCCI. In only 10% of the total linkages, author and co-authors belonged to different groups (i.e. one from NGO, other researcher and vice-versa). The published studies had more coverage in social media than news channels.
Peer-reviewed publication themes and co-author linkages within the NCCI. (a) Peer reviewed publications (n = 62) from members of the NCCI are wildlife centric (blue) with an applied science focus on livelihoods (orange) as well. Publications on climate change, agriculture and forest ecology are not as many. (b) Scientific outputs (62 peer reviewed publications) from 36 members of the NCCI mirror the stakeholders most represented in the NCCI: Some researchers and NGO members are highly linked with each other as co-authors, whereas many members are publishing with co-authors outside of the NCCI. 19 members of the NCCI are co-authors on publications relevant to central India. For (b) co-authors from NCCI network map: circle = NGO, triangle = government, square = academic, star = other, grey lines = link between NCCI members. We used Social Network Visualizer to produce the graphic.
Conservation in a heavily human-dominated landscape, such as Central India, presents challenges that would not be present in less human-dominated landscapes. The potential of NCCI to utilize existing structures in landscape related management, science and advocacy support is assessed in the study. The long term effectiveness of the network can only be realized by tracking outcomes of the suggested management and policy making interventions. The current top down management creates additional challenges that would not be present in management with more established institutions for local governance. Including local communities in decision making is key to achieving sustainable conservation goals and a very real challenge in central India, one that NCCI takes very seriously.
Credits: Amrita Neelakantan | NCCI Coordinator
The study emphasizes the importance of proactive opportunity for landscape planning in achieving multiple development and conservation goals. It provides more promising solutions than reactive policy decisions that adversely affects landscape level planning. NCCI forms the multidi sciplinary and action-oriented network that caters to interconnected conservation and human needs.
Original Paper: Neelakantan, A., Rithe, K., Tabor, G., & DeFries, R. (2021). Pathways towards people-oriented conservation in a human-dominated landscape: the network for conserving Central India. Ecosystems and People, 17(1), 432-446. DOI – https://doi.org/10.1080/26395916.2021.1955745.
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