Conserving plant genetic resources through empowering women using alternative media in Nanda Devi Biosphere Reserve (NDBR) in Uttrakhand
Nanda Devi Biosphere Reserve in Uttrakhand is spread over a total area of 5860.69 km2 with two core zones viz. Nanda Devi National Park and the Valley of Flowers National Park. The area was notified as protected in 1935. In the year 1992 it was declared as Biosphere Reserve under the UNESCO’s Man and Biosphere (MAB) programme. This year only, NDBR has been included in the World Network of Biosphere Reserves.
Local inhabitants mainly belong to two ethnic groups – the Indo-Mongoloid or Bhotia group and Indo-Aryan or the Khasa group. The Bhotia tribes generally inhabit at higher altitudes and majority, barring a few villages, practice transhumance. NDBR is a repository of genetic resources of medicinal and aromatic plants, lesser known and under utilized crops, as well as some rare animals. So far 400 species of trees, 570 species of herbs and shrubs, 86 species of mammals, 534 species of birds and 54 species of reptiles have been identified from the Reserve.
The forests are home to variety of NTFPs used traditionally by the local communities for various purposes. The richness of resources is of paramount importance, as they possess the key for developing new crop varieties, medicines for various ailments and various other products of direct and indirect use. These plants are getting rare and endangered and their genetic resource is shrinking fast. These resources are under threat and warrant immediate conservation measures.
Women in mountain areas have tremendous knowledge of the wild plants, their uses for various purposes, crop varieties and selection of seeds, seed storage and preparation of products of use from the plants cultivated or harvested from the wild. Considering their deep association with the forest, a project related to the conservation of these resources in the park was implemented by CEE Himalaya to empower the women using Alternative Media as a tool. A Pilot project supported by UNESCO, was implemented with the objectives to make the women aware of the threats to the genetic resources in the area and motivate them for conservation in the wild as well as by cultivating some of the species for which, agro-technologies have already been developed. In addition to conservation, this project also equipped the women with awareness upon sustainable alternative livelihoods.
Fourteen villages, including both tribal as well as non-tribal practicing migration were selected for project implementation. These include Reni, Lata, Tolma, Suki, Mana, Niti, and their winter settlements Kaudia, Birahi, Chinka, & Naigwad. Non-tribal villages covered include Lambagadh, Pulna, Pandukeshwar,Tapovan, Badgam and Bhallagaon.
Capacity building of women through group meetings and workshops
One major capacity building workshop was conducted for the women of nine villages at Joshimath. During the workshop above 150 tribal and non-tribal women were made aware about the importance of NDBR, the richness of biodiversity therein and its importance globally as well as locally. Tribals from villages like Niti, Mana, Malari, Bampa and Jalam from higher reaches in NDBR practice transhumance. A series of awareness meetings were conducted in their winter settlement villages including Kaudia, Birahi, Chinka, Naigwad & Ghingran. Non-tribal villages covered include Badgam, Dhak and Tapovan in Niti Valley.
Communication package for women
The indigenous knowledge about the NTFPs, their uses and conservation practices were documented through informal meetings with women during personal visits to the selected villages. Various threats to natural resources were also identified. Above 60 such plants were listed falling in the category of medicinal plants, condiments, dyes, lesser-known fruits and crops and some other with cultural importance. The communication package provides information on the importance, threats, traditional uses and cultivation of these plants, if possible. Popular folk songs narrating the importance of plant genetic resources have also been included in this package.
Communication package for Alternative Media groups
This package is developed for the local groups involved in promoting awareness about conservation through alternative media. It highlights the importance of genetic resources and the need for their conservation and will help develop messages for performances by the local groups performing alternative media. Awareness meetings were organised for the womenfolk and other stakeholders by using these packages. A comparative study on the impact of alternative media vs. the conventional print & electronic media was undertaken. Through extensive surveys it was found that alternate media had much more impact compared to the conventional media which has its limitations.
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