The Western Ghats are one of the world's eight biodiversity hotspots, and host exceptional endemicity throughout.
India hosts rich biodiversity. Our nation is home to four of the world’s 36 biodiversity hotspots with an abundance of endemic species of flora and fauna. The increasing impact of climate change and development has exerted great pressure on the environment, threatening these intricate ecosystems. Apart from being home to a wide variety of plants and animals, these ecosystems are also key to the sustenance of the many communities that depend on them for livelihood and food.
These ecosystems provide sources of water, act as major carbon sequesters and sources of livelihood. Their conservation is therefore vital. The Western Ghats are one of the world’s eight biodiversity hotspots, and host exceptional endemicity throughout. These forests are some of the best non-equatorial tropical evergreen forests and host 325 globally threatened animal species. The unique landscape of The Ghats helps moderate the climate of not just the surrounding region, but also of the entire peninsular India. The Western Ghats are key to India’s water security as they cradle an intricate river system with 50 major rivers which originate here. These include the Krishna, the Kaveri, and the Godavari rivers. Spanning six states, the catchment area formed by these rivers drains almost 40% of India. The Western Ghats form a major carbon sink, and, as per research, they have the potential to sequester carbon from all south Indian cities along with 1.62% of India’s total CO2 emissions.
Today, the impacts of climate change hamper daily lives with unpredictable natural events such as heatwaves and un-seasonal rains among others. These impacts hamper not just ecology but also have implications to human life. Maintaining environmental health is key in ensuring sustainable development. Given the grave situation around climate change, the Western Ghats are an important natural national resource. Reducing natural water reserves and increasing forest fires are some of the most visible effects. These effects of climate change hamper the livelihoods of dependent communities. Water insecurity has been impacting agriculture, affecting health and wellbeing across communities, and stunting economic growth. It is key that all stakeholders – communities dependent on the forest, those with livelihoods supported by the natural ecosystems, policymakers, and public and private organizations – come together to sustain these ecosystems with work with a goal of conservation and preservation.
It is vital that members of the local community lead conservation efforts because they engage with the ecosystem first-hand. Their daily lives depend on the forest, its systems, and products, so they must become the custodians of the ecosystem. To be sure, organizations are making concerted conservation efforts in the Western Ghats. Some entities have acknowledged the importance of the Ghats, and have come forward with interventions for biodiversity conservation, curtailing animal-human conflict in the interest of sustainable livelihoods and effective ecosystem management.
Community development initiatives devised after considering the interdependencies of human life and the environment enable the creation of resilient and sustainable communities. Community action encouraged through social behaviour change communication engagements, awareness building, and resource-driven strategies have seen success in the region. From training communities to adopt sustainable farming practices to fighting forest fires, community action has initiated conservation efforts in the Western Ghats. Keeping the community as the center of conservation and sustainable development efforts, the Sustainable Landscape Management model creates resilient and thriving ecosystems from an environmental, economic, and social well-being perspective. With a holistic approach, the model develops a landscape into a sustainable and resilient ecosystem that supports people while protecting the environment from degradation. Currently the model is being implemented in Velhe, Pune, a region that has some of the lowest human development indicators and a landscape which is impacted by climate change patterns. Velhe since the adoption of the Sustainable Landscape Management model has witnessed increased water accessibility especially drinking water during the lean summer months, reduced drudgery of the women who collect the firewood, reduced biotic & abiotic pressures on the forest and improved health and wellbeing of the community.
Community action, backed by adequate resources provided by private and public collaborators, will ensure the successful implementation of conservation efforts. It is key that organizations working at the grassroots acknowledge the power of the community and drive engagement and action plans in partnership with the local community. With all stakeholders coming together as one, we can ensure the conservation of biodiverse ecosystems like.
This article is authored by Leena Dandekar, Founder, Raintree Foundation