Comparative Study Across Four States of India - Nilgiris District, Tamil Nadu State

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Date
2007
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Swiss Development Cooperation- Intercooperation
Abstract
"Given the close relationship between water security and the native forests as well as the reliance of tribal groups on forest products, environmental conservation is clearly not a discrete issue from humanitarian development. However, the total protection of biodiversity sites through the creation of reserves can come at the expense of the socio-economic development of those who rely on such habitiats for survival, since they may be denied access to the forests and/or their products. In our field observations, this was clearly apparent in villages adjacent to the Mudumalai Wildlife Sanctuary (a part of the Biosphere Reserve) where tribal people have been restricted to a small fenced area and have no rights over the forestland. The community has been totally alienated from the forest, not being allowed even to enter the land that until recently was the centre of their livelihoods. Compelled to live within the fenced area, their situation has become prison-like and has resulted in a total loss of traditional forest-based livelihoods. "In addition to this, the creation of the biosphere reserve has massively increased tourism in the district. Yet this expansion has occurred with no proper planning and has brought its own pressures, causing significant environmental degradation which is threatening the long term viability of tourism in the hills. Thus there is a possibility that the deep emphasis on conservation is simultaneously restricting the opportunities for adivasi groups reliant on the forest areas as well as encouraging levels of tourism that cannot be sustained without inducing environmental degradation. Tribal communities thus face two inter-related obstacles: firstly the appropriation of much of the forest area for plantations, which has dramatically increased pressure on remaining resources and compounded environmental degradation, and secondly new legislation restricting access to the forest and grasslands, which whilst attempting to protect biodiversity has also emphasised conservation at the expense of adivasi livelihoods. "In the face of such alienation of livelihoods, the work of the Keystone Foundation seems to offer some viable alternatives. Subsistence livelihoods based on shifting cultivation and migratory herding are clearly no longer sustainable in the modern context of the Nilgiri Hills; with few accessible forest areas such practices can only lead to widespread exhaustion of the natural resource base. Keystone work with tribal communities to diversify livelihood opportunities through income generation activities as well as capacity building, which in the long term will help to provide sustainable alternatives in the changing landscape of the Nilgiris."
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forests, water management, environmentalism, conservation, development, biodiversity
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