Delineating linkages between ecosystem services and livelihoods
The vast rolling plains stretching east all the way to the Bay of Bengal, from the foothills of the Western Ghats of Tirunelveli district comprises of hot and arid grasslands. Over the years, this landscape has shrunk because it is considered a wasteland and thereby easing its conversion into residential plots, industrial areas, tree plantations or paddy farms. There is growing evidence of how valuable grasslands are for local communities and how it supports biodiversity that provides ecosystem services, which in turn supports local livelihood.
The districts of Tirunelveli and Toothikudi districts are home to a community of traditional herders, Edaiyars— who now calls themselves Konars. They straddle between Tirunelveli and Thoothukudi districts in search of pasture. This migration between the two regions is significant for farmlands in the landscape too, since during the day while sheep graze, their urine and pellets enrich the soil in fallow lands and reduce the usage of chemical fertilisers for cultivation. Farmers also pay for penning the sheep herds in their fields during night time.
Moreover, these grasslands house an astonishing diversity of plants that are typical to the semi-arid landscapes of southern India, and several large and small mammal species. These dry lands also support about 100 bird species, and 65 of these are dependent on grasslands, which include several rare migrant birds as well. Additionally, they also support several species of reptiles including the scaly gecko, which ATREE researchers rediscovered in the area after 115 years, and the fan throated lizard, a new species restricted to the dry lands south of Tamiraparani.
The fallow field, dry farmland and grassland complex in the districts of Tirunelveli and Thoothukudi comprises a shrinking area of land that supports the livelihoods of grazing communities whose livestock depend on the grasslands for pasture. It also supports a significant biodiversity that is unique to grasslands. These grasslands can be conserved by strengthening local communities to protecting their grazing areas with governmental support. It is critical that grasslands are notified as Meichal peramboke/ grazing lands and people are made aware of their legal rights over these areas.