Forests for biodiversity and well-being


South Asia’s globally unique forests are changing rapidly and changes in forest cover correlate with radical alterations in people’s interactions with them. Such interactions include changes in land use and land cover, population growth and demographic change, technological developments, growing economic integration of rural and urbanising areas, spread of invasive species and changes in local and regional climate regimes. To address some of these issues, the USAID-funded Forests for Biodiversity and Well-being project is being implemented at three sites in the Western Ghats – the Biligiri Ranganathaswamy Temple Tiger Reserve, Cauvery Wildlife Sanctuary and Malai Mahadeswara Wildlife Sanctuary. The main issues this project addresses are increasing the income of forest-dependent communities through improved management of agriculture and NTFP species, introducing innovations in strengthening systems of forest resources management and monitoring the resources with community participation. The Eastern Himalaya component of the project focuses on managing forest ecosystems and societal interactions with the forest in the face of global, environmental and economic change. The project focuses on two protected areas in the Darjeeling hills – the Singalila National Park (SNP) and Senchel Wildlife Sanctuary (SWLS). The villages of the Eastern Himalayas are both forest villages (land entitlements with the Forest Department) as well as revenue villages (privately owned land) dependent on forests for resources and livelihood. These villages bear an impact on forest conditions, which is further exacerbated by issues such as global warming, increasing fuelwood extraction, deterioration of soil owing to an increased focus on agricultural productivity, human-wildlife conflicts and a dearth of diverse livelihood opportunities for locals. Therefore, there is an immediate need to not only adopt more climate and environment-friendly agricultural techniques, but also diversify livelihood options to help locals better adapt to fluctuations in climate that can affect traditional agriculture-based livelihoods. To this end, the project has helped reduce fuelwood dependency, promoted climate-smart agriculture, explored off-farm livelihoods for locals, and is actively addressing crop raids by wildlife.