Biodiversity management - Indian style

Villagers take the lead in promoting biodiversity conservation in India.

Nairobi, 10 October 2016: Villagers in India’s rural Andhra Pradesh State have struck the delicate balance between benefiting from their rich biodiversity, while also ensuring its sustainability for future generations.

The 732 residents of Pinakota Grama Panchayat village in Visakhapatnam district depend for their livelihoods on collecting medicinal plants and non-timber forest products like cashew, tamarind, soap nuts and brooms. The village is surrounded by tropical deciduous forest ecosystems.

One important source of income in Pinakota is the medicinal plant andrographis  paniculata (kalmegh). It is used for curing malaria, typhoid and all kinds of fever, and can control ringworm in the intestines of small children, so demand for it is high.

Villagers and tribal communities in Pinakota and elsewhere in Andhra Pradesh collect kalmegh from forest areas; some is grown by farmers. Pinakota produces about two tons a year. Another medicinal plant currently being cultivated in the area is Madhunashini (Gymnema sylvestre).

Hidden among the rich local fauna is andrographis paniculata. Locals call itmaha-tikta ("king of bitter"). It is used to treat infections. Throughout Andhra Pradesh State about 50 tons is collected annually.

Cashew is the main cash crop at present. The village operates a crop rotation system whereby a piece of land is cultivated for three or four years and then left fallow for several years to restore its fertility.

The problem
How to manage these valuable bio-resources in a sustainable way so that people can receive meaningful incomes without wiping out these resources through excessive demand is a tricky balancing act.

Not enough is known about these resources or how best to manage them. The local villagers are vulnerable to unscrupulous business people and traders who come to the village, buy up medicinal plants and sell them on at relatively large margins to pharmaceutical companies.

Solutions
Pinakota is just one of a number of villages benefiting from a biodiversity conservation project being jointly implemented by UN Environment and the Government of India.

Funded by the Global Environment Facility (GEF), the project, titled Strengthening the Implementation of the Biological Diversity Act and Rules with a Focus on its Access and Benefit Sharing Provisions, has been up and running since 2011, and is funded till June 2017.

The project brings together villagers who collect the bio-resources, traders, and business people (who arrange transport and process the plants before selling them on to pharmaceutical companies).

Krupa Shanthi, a 37-year-old a mother of two and head of the village, chairs Pinakota’s new Biodiversity Management Committee (BMC), which is responsible for conserving, documenting and sustainably sharing the benefits of the area’s diverse flora and fauna. It was set up in line with India’s Biological Diversity Act, and has an office in the village.

“Due to the interventions of the project and implementation of the Act, we are able to get benefits from the resources available in our village, and the livelihoods of the people have increased,” says Shanthi.

“Key aims of the project are to establish national, state and local level databases on biodiversity with economic potential, help to exploit the country’s diversity in a sustainable way, and get a better deal for local producers,” says Ishwar C Poojar,  the project’s manager in India.

BMC levies charges from individuals in the area who access and collect biological resources for commercial purposes. The fees collected (5,000 rupees so far) are ploughed back into the Local Biodiversity Fund which promotes conservation activities. One example of this is seedling distribution: In 2015, 250 mango seedlings and 240 teak seedlings were distributed to families.

“By knowing the powers of the BMC we were able to avoid middlemen in resource transactions and earn more income. The benefits accrued by way of levy fee helped us to think towards biodiversity conservation,” says Shanthi.

“By implementing the Access and Benefit Sharing mechanism we were able to generate resources for the tribal community by way of fees,” says M.S. Padma Kumari, a former membership secretary of the Andhra Pradesh Biodiversity Board.

“This helped us motivate people towards biodiversity conservation. Manufacturing companies who are instrumental in implementing the Access and Benefit Sharing mechanism have also benefited… At the outset we were be able to improve the livelihoods of the local community by implementing this mechanism.”

This is the first time GEF has funded a project in India which aims to improve access to biological resources, assess their economic value and better share their benefits among local people.

The project is currently being implemented in 10 of the country’s 29 states: Andhra Pradesh, Gujarat, Himachal Pradesh, Sikkim, West Bengal, Goa, Karnataka, Odisha, Telangana and Tripura.

For more information, please contact Ersin Esen. Email: Ersin.Esen[at]unep.org